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Sidewalk Trip and Falls

While some of the dangers of walking in urban areas are more obvious, other potential hazards are often overlooked by pedestrians. The possibility of being injured while walking along a public sidewalk, for instance, is not something that most pedestrians consider. After all, the very purpose of sidewalks is to provide a safe means of mobility for persons that travel by foot. Sidewalk accidents, though, are probably more common than you think. In example, injury can occur when a pedestrian trips and falls due to sidewalk that was not properly maintained.

Far too often, a victim that is injured upon a sidewalk, may dismiss the incident as being ‘purely accidental,’ without considering whether the negligence of another contributed to or caused their harm, such that they may be entitled to compensation. The better approach, however, is to understand your rights and options under Illinois law prior to making assumptions. Depending on where and how the accident occurred, you may be able to recover financially, for injuries involving sidewalk maintenance issues, pursuant to the state’s Premises Liability Act.

Sidewalks are no different than other pieces of property in the sense landowners must exercise “reasonable care under the circumstances regarding the state of the premises.” When this duty of care is breached, a property owner can be held liable for harm that occurs as a result. As with other premises liability claims, establishing that a property owner acted unreasonably in failing to fix, repair, maintain or warn of a dangerous condition upon a sidewalk, requires proof that the owner had notice of the dangerous condition. Notice can be ‘actual,’ meaning that the owner was aware of the hazard, or ‘constructive,’ meaning that the property owner should or would have known about or discovered the hazard had they exercised ordinary care.

There are some situations, in which a property owner’s duty of reasonable care will not apply. For example, where a trip and fall occurs due to a gap in the sidewalk that the victim knew existed prior to the accident, or where a gaping hole was so large, such that the victim should have seen it, and been able to avoid their own injury. Hazards of this nature are generally considered to be ‘open and obvious,’ and can allow property owners to negate liability by demonstrating that no breach in duty of care occurred.

On the other hand, there are circumstances in which a victim overcome the open and obvious hazard defense by proving that the landowner should have anticipated the potential for harm despite obviousness of a dangerous condition. One example is the ‘distraction exception,’ which prior case law has defined as a situation in which the property owner "has reason to expect that the invitee's attention may be distracted, so that he will not discover what is obvious, or will forget what he has discovered, or fail to protect himself against it." (See, Rexroad v. City of Springfield, 2007 Ill. 2nd 33 (2003). Another is the “deliberate encounter exception,’ which applies when the landowner "has reason to expect that the invitee will proceed to encounter the known or obvious danger because to a reasonable man in his position the advantages of doing so would outweigh the apparent risk." Id.

Another important consideration in pedestrian injury claims involving sidewalk accidents is whether the incident occurred upon public or private property. This is because public sidewalks are city-owned property, and therefore Illinois’ Premise Liability Act must also be read in conjunction with the state’s Tort Immunity Act. Because claims against a municipality can be challenging in comparison to those against private landowners, understanding the distinction between the two should be factored in when selecting legal representation following an injury occurring upon a sidewalk. Choosing an attorney with prior experience in both pedestrian accident and premises liability cases, as well the proven ability to obtain results in claims brought against a governmental entity, can significantly impact a claimant’s ability to obtain financial compensation.

If you or a loved one sustained injury upon a public sidewalk, or private property, the Chicago accident liability attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. encourage you to contact us for a free personal injury case evaluation. For immediate assistance, give us a call at 773-516-4100, or send us a message online.

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