Whether you travel by foot to the bus stop, take your dog on an evening stroll, or regularly walk between businesses, chances are that you use a public sidewalk on a regular basis. Many publicly-owned sidewalks in West Virginia are well-maintained and safe, but there are also many stretches of public sidewalks that are cracked, buckled, bulging, or built at angles that pose a threat to pedestrians.
If you’ve been injured while walking, you may be wondering who is liable for a slip and fall on a public sidewalk in West Virginia. Holding local governments and municipalities responsible for their negligent or wrongful actions can be a challenge, and it is not always clear when they may actually hold any responsibility for a fall and resulting injuries.
Determining Liability for a Slip and Fall on a Public Sidewalk in West Virginia
To determine liability for a slip and fall accident that occurs on a sidewalk, you must first determine who owns the sidewalk. This can be more complicated than you may realize, although one of the most effective approaches is to ask, “Who is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the sidewalk?”
Is the Sidewalk Owned by a Municipality?
Determining whether a sidewalk is owned by the city of Charleston, WV or a private property owner is deceptively difficult. The majority of sidewalks in our beautiful city are not necessarily owned directly by a government entity.
For help determining if the city owns the sidewalk you were injured on, you may contact the Charleston Planning Department, the Kanawha County Commission Department of Planning and Development, or a premises liability attorney who has experience identifying liable parties for injury claims.
Is the Sidewalk Owned by a Business or Homeowner?
According to Section 102-52 of Charleston, WV Code of Ordinances, property owners (including nonresident owners and occupants) have a legal obligation to maintain any sidewalks abutting their property in good order.
If the responsibility to repair, improve, restore, or otherwise maintain a sidewalk lies with the adjoining property owner, then it is owned by that individual and, therefore, their responsibility. This means that they can be held financially responsible for any injuries that occur on that sidewalk.
Causes of Sidewalk Slip and Fall Accidents
Slip, trip, and fall accidents on sidewalks happen for a variety of reasons. These may include:
- Cracks and buckles – Sidewalks are made from concrete. Although concrete is known to be a strong, durable substance, expansions and contractions that occur with changing temperatures can cause cracks or buckles to appear in the pavement. Over time, cracks can deepen, widen, and shift to different heights, presenting a fall risk to pedestrians.
- Accumulation of water, ice, and snow – Sidewalks that were designed and constructed without the surrounding environment in mind are more susceptible to significant accumulations of rainwater. Any accumulation of water, ice, or snow is a hazard to those on foot.
- Poor or insufficient lighting – Life does not end when the sun goes down. Whether out for an evening run or walking home from work, pedestrians need to be able to see where they are going in order to avoid tripping hazards. When government entities fail to provide adequate lighting or do not replace burned-out bulbs in a timely manner, falls can occur.
- Trash and debris – Discarded soda bottles, empty fast food containers, and lawn care equipment carelessly left on a sidewalk can create an obstacle course out of what should be a safe, straightforward path.
Legal Options for Slip and Fall Injuries on a Public Sidewalk
Filing a premises liability lawsuit is often the most effective way to recover compensation for your related injuries and financial losses. Suing a local or state government entity is complicated, though. You must follow special rules when trying to hold a government entity liable for the harm you’ve suffered.
For example, West Virginia state law usually affords slip and fall victims two years to meet with an attorney, build a case, and file a lawsuit. When the defendant is a government entity, that time frame is shortened to a mere 30 days.
The type of compensation you are eligible for in a premises liability case against a government entity may also be limited. Depending on the local, city, or state entity you are suing, you might only qualify for economic damages (also called specific damages). These encompass your calculable financial losses, such as lost income, medical bills, and property damage.
Compensation for non-economic damages, such as mental anguish, is likely to be limited if available at all.
What To Do After a Fall Accident on a Sidewalk
If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident on a sidewalk anywhere in Charleston, Kanawha County, or anywhere else in the state of West Virginia, you may have only a limited period of time to take legal action. The steps you take in the immediate aftermath of a sidewalk accident can be crucial to the overall success of your claim, which is why we recommend taking the following steps:
- Take pictures – Evidence can disappear quickly in a slip and fall accident claim. Use your phone’s camera to capture pictures and videos of the accident scene, including conditions that you believe contributed to your fall.
- Seek medical attention – Call 911 or have someone take you directly to the nearest emergency room if you believe you’ve suffered a serious head, neck, or back injury. Broken bones and lacerations also require immediate medical attention. Even if you don’t feel particularly hurt, you should still schedule an appointment with your regular doctor.
- Speak with a lawyer – A lawyer will have the knowledge, experience, and insight into state premises liability law that is needed to successfully investigate a fall accident on a public sidewalk.
You Deserve Compassionate Representation
A slip and fall on a public sidewalk can have far-reaching implications for your future. If you’re seriously injured and cannot work, the financial impact of missed paychecks and compounding medical bills can feel like too much for one person to handle.
It is important for you to know that you are not alone.
At DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, we are proud to put our combined 150 years of experience to work for you. For an opportunity to speak with an attorney about how to hold a government entity responsible for your injuries, please contact our Charleston, WV law office as soon as possible. We’ll schedule you for a totally free consultation with a knowledgeable, experienced, and compassionate lawyer.