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Can I Sue the City if I Tripped and Fell on an Uneven Sidewalk?

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

If you were hurt in a public area due to tripping on an uneven walkway, you might wonder if you can sue the city for falling on a sidewalk. This type of accident can leave you with severe injuries that require costly medical treatment and rehabilitation time. Seeking compensation from the city responsible for maintaining the sidewalk can help you cover these costs while you focus on recovery.

While suing a city for falling on a sidewalk is possible, it can be challenging due to Michigan’s tort claims laws, which offer some immunity to municipalities. Our trip and fall attorneys at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. can help file a claim against the city seeking a fair settlement for your injuries.

Common Causes of Sidewalk Injuries

Michigan’s busy cities feature a complex network of sidewalks integral to residents’ daily commutes and leisurely strolls. However, these sidewalks can also be the source of injuries, ranging from minor scrapes to more serious accidents. Common causes of sidewalk injuries include:

  • Uneven surfaces. Due to weathering, tree roots, or poor maintenance, sidewalk tiles may become uneven, creating tripping hazards.
  • Slippery conditions. Ice, snow, or wet leaves, especially in Michigan’s harsh winters and rainy seasons, can make sidewalks treacherously slippery.
  • Obstructions. Items like trash and fallen branches can block the pathway, leading to trips and falls.
  • Poor lighting. Inadequate lighting at night or in poorly lit areas increases the risk of tripping over unseen hazards.
  • Construction-related issues. Construction work can leave behind debris or create uneven surfaces, posing risks to pedestrians.
  • Cracks and potholes. Over time and without proper maintenance, sidewalks can develop cracks and potholes, which are easy to miss and cause falls.
  • Lack of proper signage. Missing or inadequate signage around hazards like construction zones or sudden level changes can lead to accidents.

What is Premises Liability?

Premises liability is a legal concept that holds property owners and occupiers responsible for injuries that occur on their premises due to dangerous conditions. This concept typically applies to private residences and businesses but can also extend to municipal governments for spaces they maintain, including buildings and sidewalks.

The concept of premises liability implies that the local government has a duty to maintain these areas in a safe condition for public use. This includes ensuring sidewalks are free from hazards like uneven surfaces, slippery conditions, and obstructions that could lead to injuries.

If a pedestrian is injured due to a failure in this duty—such as a neglected pothole, unremoved ice, or a lack of warning signs around a construction site—the city could be held liable for the resulting harm. This means you may be able to sue the city for falling on the sidewalk if you can prove the municipality’s negligence caused your injuries.

How to Tell if a Sidewalk is Under City or Private Ownership

Determining sidewalk ownership is a crucial first step if you’re considering a lawsuit for an injury sustained on that sidewalk. Knowing whether the sidewalk falls under city or private ownership can impact the legal process.

Here’s how our attorneys can help you identify the responsible party:

  • Check property lines. We can review property and plat maps from the local county assessor’s office or city planning department to help determine where the property lines lie and whether the sidewalk falls within them.
  • Understand local ordinances. Many cities have specific ordinances that define responsibility for sidewalk maintenance. We’ll examine these ordinances to see whether the city or adjacent property owners are responsible.
  • Inquire with local government. We can contact the local city or municipal government directly for clarification. We’ll ask if the sidewalk is part of public infrastructure or under private ownership.
  • Assess the sidewalk’s location. Depending on the location, we can speak with residential property owners or nearby business managers to determine if they are responsible for the sidewalk. If not, we can contact the local municipality to determine who owns the sidewalk and is responsible for maintenance.

Can You Sue the City for Falling on the Sidewalk in Michigan?

You can sue the city for your trip and fall damages in Michigan; however, you must prove specific elements per premises liability law. Our premises liability attorneys can help you demonstrate the following to hold the city responsible for your injuries:

  • Duty of care. You must establish that the municipality had a duty to maintain safe sidewalks and that the one you fell on was under the city’s care. Our attorneys can help by collecting and presenting evidence demonstrating the city’s responsibility for sidewalk upkeep, including municipal codes and standards.
  • Breach of duty. You must show that the city failed in its duty by not keeping the sidewalk reasonably safe. Our attorneys can gather evidence of the sidewalk’s condition, such as photographs, maintenance records, and expert testimony, to demonstrate neglect or oversight by the city.
  • Causation. You’ll need to prove the direct link between the city’s negligence and your injuries. Our attorneys can assist by reconstructing the accident scenario, gathering witness statements, and consulting medical experts to establish that the hazardous sidewalk condition was the direct cause of your injuries.
  • Damages. You must verify your injuries and show the extent of your losses. Our attorneys can help compile comprehensive evidence of your damages, including medical expenses, lost income, and the impact on your quality of life, to help you receive fair compensation for your suffering and financial losses.

Special Considerations for Suing a Municipality

In Michigan, suing a municipality like a city or town involves unique challenges compared to filing a lawsuit against a private entity or individual. Under Michigan Statute 691.1406, when suing a city for your trip and fall, you must consider the following:

  • Liability for known defects. Governmental agencies often have immunity from tort claims, meaning you can’t sue them for damages in an accident. However, they can be responsible if they have actual or constructive knowledge of a defect in a public building and fail to remedy it within a reasonable time.
  • 90-day rule for defects. A defect that has been readily apparent to an ordinary person for 90 days or more before the injury is assumed to be known by the governmental agency. If you tripped on an uneven sidewalk that had been that way for more than 90 days, you may have a stronger case against the city.
  • 120-day Notice requirement. You must notify the responsible governmental agency of your injury and the defect within 120 days of the incident with a Notice of Claim form. The Notice must detail the location and nature of the defect, the injury, and any witnesses.
  • Personal service or certified mail for notice. You must send the notice personally or by certified mail with a requested return receipt. The notice must be given to someone who can lawfully receive civil proceedings for the agency.
  • Mandatory testimony if requested. You may be required to testify and present witnesses before the governmental agency’s legislative body or chief administrative officer to provide further details about the claim and injury.

Falling On Sidewalk

How Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. Can Help With Your Case

If you’ve suffered an injury on a public sidewalk in Michigan and are considering legal action against a municipality, Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. can offer experienced guidance and support.

Our team will do the following to help you with the unique challenges of these cases:

  • Navigate governmental immunity. We understand the intricacies of governmental immunity and can determine if your case qualifies under the exceptions and take your next steps.
  • Adhere to statutory requirements. Our attorneys follow all procedural steps, including meeting the 120-day notice requirement, to boost your chances of a successful claim against a municipality.
  • Gather and present evidence. We will collect compelling evidence that shows the city’s knowledge of the hazard, using maintenance records, eyewitness accounts, and expert testimony to build a strong case.
  • Trial representation. Facing a municipality in court requires skillful navigation of its defense strategies, which often include challenging the evidence and questioning the extent of the city’s legal responsibility. Our attorneys are experienced in countering these tactics and can argue your case effectively.

Contact Cochran, Kroll, & Associate, P.C. For Skilled Legal Representation

Injuries sustained from tripping and falling on an uneven sidewalk can have serious consequences, and seeking compensation from a municipality can be complex. If you or a loved one has been injured due to a hazardous sidewalk condition and believe the city may be liable, consult with experienced personal injury attorneys specializing in municipal liability cases.

We can provide the legal skills and guidance needed to navigate this legal landscape and help you pursue the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn if you can sue the city for falling on the sidewalk in your case.

Our contingency fee basis means we only get paid if we win your case, so there is no financial risk to you to get started. Call our law firm today at 1-866-MICH-LAW and schedule your no-obligation, free case evaluation.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Alistair MacDonald holds a bachelor’s degree in History and minors in Classics and Economics from Hamilton College. He writes about complex financial and legal topics, explaining them in a reader-friendly way.

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