Is the City Liable if I Fall on the Sidewalk?

Property owners are responsible for making sure their lands and buildings are reasonably free of hazards that could hurt residents or customers, such as wet spots, loose wires, or broken floor tiles.  These types of hazards can easily lead to slip and fall accidents, which injure thousands of people every year.  If the property is commercial (like a business) or residential (like an apartment building), the owner may be held liable for the victim’s injuries.  A private property owner may also be liable for a defective condition of sidewalks fronting their property, with the City having secondary liability.

In cases where a slip and fall happens on public property, such as city owned premises, street or sidewalk in Philadelphia, the rules are a little different.  In this article, slip and fall lawyer Brent Wieand will explain some legal basics that plaintiffs should be aware of.

Shortened Statute of Limitations for Slip and Fall Lawsuits Against Public Entities

While trip and fall accidents are sometimes a harmless event, they have the potential to cause catastrophic injuries like fractured bones, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), paralysis resulting from spinal cord injuries (SCI), or even wrongful death.  After a victim sustains such an injury, he or she may want to file a lawsuit against the city.  While doing so successfully is certainly not impossible, suing public entities is typically more challenging than suing individuals due to the additional legal hurdles which are involved.

To begin with, plaintiffs must be prepared to take near-immediate legal action.  While Pennsylvania’s normal statute of limitations, or deadline on filing a lawsuit, is a full two years for personal injury claims, the deadline is truncated to a mere six months – just a quarter of the normal length – when the defendant is a public entity.  This is provided by 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5522(a)(1) (Notice Prerequisite to Action Against Government Unit), which makes a six-month rule for “any person who is about to commence any civil action or proceeding within [Pennsylvania]… on account of any injury to his person or property.”  

Here’s what this means for plaintiffs on a practical level: you have six months, counting down from the date of your injury, to file a formal written statement with the Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General (Kathleen Kane, as of August, 2015).  As the statute goes on to add at 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5522(a)(2), if the statement is not filed within six months of the accident, then “any civil action or proceeding commenced against the government unit… shall be forever barred from proceeding further [through the court system].”

Of course, your personal injury lawyer will assist you with the preparation and filing of this statement and other legal documents.  While pro se (self) representation is perfectly legal, plaintiffs are strongly advised to retain professional assistance from an attorney due to the complex and challenging nature of litigation involving government entities.  

slip and fall accident

Exceptions to Governmental Immunity

The statute of limitations is not the only factor which changes when the defendant is a government entity.  Plaintiffs must also contend against a legal concept known as “governmental immunity” (or “sovereign immunity” when suing the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth agency which is slightly different.)  Put simply, governmental immunity generally protects the government against assuming liability negligent actions taken by government employees, and therefore, can pose one of the greatest obstacles to plaintiffs who attempt to sue cities and other public entities for damages.  

However, there are exceptions to governmental immunity which are set forth under §8542, and holds that:

“A local agency shall be liable for damages on account of an injury to a person or property within the limits set forth in this subchapter if both of the following conditions are satisfied and the injury occurs as a result of one of the acts set forth in subsection (b)” including:

  • Vehicle liability (car accident, truck accident etc.)  
  • Care, custody or control of personal property
  • Real Property
  • Trees, traffic controls and street lighting
  • Utility service facilities
  • Sreets
  • Sidewalks
  • Care, custody or control of animals

In other words, governmental immunity is waived against types of accident listed above – including some accidents that occur on real property, streets and sidewalks. This is great news for someone who was injured because of a hazardous condition of public property.  

That being said, proving negligence isn’t always an easy or simple task.  There are numerous factors which must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, including whether the defective condition was natural or man-made, whether the property owner was aware of the hazardous condition, and whether the property owner had a reasonable amount of time in which to clear or correct the hazard.

If you are injured on public property because of a condition such as cracked concrete, uneven surfaces, loose bricks, crumbling ledges, and other defects, you may have a viable claim.  Call attorney Brent Wieand at (888) 789-3161 to set up a free and confidential legal consultation.  Brent serves clients throughout Pennsylvania, as well as New Jersey.


*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes. It is not legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.


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