Question: I tripped over a broken sidewalk in Philadelphia and broke my wrist. Can I sue the homeowner for the accident?
Answer: In Pennsylvania, sidewalk trip and fall accident lawsuits require evidence of a defective, dangerous condition of the sidewalk. Oftentimes, these cases boil down to whether the injured person can prove the following:
- that a defect existed, and
- that the property owner either knew about it or should have known about it under the circumstances.
Proving a Defect in Sidewalk
Sidewalks in Philadelphia are usually made of concrete slabs or bricks/pavers. Breaks can be caused by different things including tree roots, poor maintenance, etc. Oftentimes, tree roots can cause bricks or concrete to break or may cause one slab of concrete to be raised higher than another. Under Pennsylvania law, property owners aren’t liable for every little bump or uneven section of a sidewalk. If the defect is considered trivial or de minimus, the owner won’t be liable.
However, whether a broken piece of sidewalk is trivial depends on the facts of the case. In one case, an inch variation may be enough to hold the owner liable. In another case, a 1/2 inch variation may not be enough. In a recent PA appellate court case from 2015, Reinoso v. Warminster Heritage, a 5/8 inch variation in the sidewalk was enough for the case to proceed.
Pictures are often necessary to prove a defective condition in the sidewalk. They must clearly show the defect at or near the time of the accident. Taking a picture of a defective, broken sidewalk 1 or 2 years after the accident probably won’t accurately show the defect as it existed at the time of the accident. On the other hand, pictures taken a few days or weeks after the accident would be sufficient.
Did the Owner Have Notice of the Defect?
Assuming there is sufficient proof of the defective condition, the next issue is whether the owner had legal notice of the dangerous sidewalk at some point prior to the accident. Legal notice in fall accident cases can be actual or constructive. Actual notice is exactly what it sounds like, direct knowledge of the condition. Here’s an example of actual notice: an owner admits that he saw the broken sidewalk several months before the accident.
Constructive notice is a little more complex. Constructive notice exists if the circumstances are such that the owner should have known about the defect. Here’s an example of constructive notice: a sidewalk breaks due to a large tree root. The portion of sidewalk in question is located under the mailbox. An expert testifies that the tree root must have existed for several years and that over time, the break in the sidewalk would have gotten larger. The circumstances show that the owner should have seen the sidewalk, given that it was under the mailbox.
It is important that you seek legal help immediately to preserve your legal rights. Contact our office for a free consultation. Our Philadelphia office is located on Walnut Street in Center City. (866) 641-0806
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