Sidewalk Slip and Falls -- Who's Liable?

It may be suprising to hear, but many San Fernando slip and fall or trip and fall cases happen on sidewalks. Most of these claims are brought against municipalities and generally turn on whether the property owner or possessor acted with reasonable care so that slipping or tripping was not likely to occur. When the property owner is a municipality, such as the city or County, the situation is different from a homeowner or commercial property owner.

Negligence in a Sidewalk Fall Case

In order to show that the municipality was negligent, or careless, in maintaining the sidewalk where you injured yourself, your slip and fall lawyer must show: [1] The sidewalk was in an unreasonably unsafe condition; [2] The property owner knew or should have known about the conditions that caused the injury (that the sidewalk was reasonably unsafe); [3] The property owner breached the standard of care by failing to fix the condition within a reasonable time; and finally [4] The breach is what caused your injury.

Who is Liable for a Slip/Trip and Fall on a Public Sidewalk?

Liability for your slip and fall injury depends on state laws. A municipality has a duty to pedestrians to keep the sidewalks safe for their intended use. However, many jurisdictions require that property owners keep the sidewalks in front of their property safe. Therefore, liability may be on the municipality, the property owner, or both. Your attorney will be able to address your specific case with you in further detail.

Other Considerations in a California Slip and Fall

Trivial Defect Doctrine

If the defect was so small, the court can hold that it was reasonable for the municipality or property owner to allow the defect to go unrepaired.


Often, people trip in places where the sidewalk has become raised or otherwise uneven. This usually occurs from the movement of tree roots. When the tree root is at fault, it is necessary to determine the ownership of the tree.

How Much the Sidewalk was Raised

If the fall was the result of a raised section or slab, the distance raised is very important. If the distance raised is less than one inch, this is often considered to be a trivial defect. If more, you may have a strong case.

Shoes Worn

After a slip and fall, it is important to save your shoes and not wear them again. If the shoes are very worn or have very high heels, the defense may try to use this to show that the fall was your own fault. You will need to work with your lawyer to show otherwise.


There is a lowered standard of care and responsibility to look at where you are stepping if there is a recognized distraction nearby. For example, store windows are known to distract people. Did you trip and fall near a recognized distraction?

Statute of Limitations

California has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases (including sidewalk falls) against private property owners. However, for cases involving a public entity (city, county, state, federal, or a branch thereof), you must file an administrative claim with the entity or agency within six months from the date of the injury. This is one more area where retaining an attorney will be of value to you.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Barry P. Goldberg, A Professional Law Corporation | Attorney Advertising

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