Chicago Sidewalk Laws Outdated and In Need of Serious Repair

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Chicago Sidewalk Laws Outdated and In Need of Serious Repair

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

Chicago, Illinois was founded in 1833 and it is one of the more historic cities in the United States. Sadly, with that important foundation comes laws that are severely outdated, and some could put residents at risk for serious injury.

Take the sidewalk laws for example.

In early January 2018, property owners signed up to help pay for repairs to sidewalks in their area that might not have been their responsibility in the first place. Under the Chicago Shared Cost Sidewalk Program, a voluntary program, property owners are encouraged to split the costs of sidewalk repairs with the government.

The program is popular and meant to help save the municipalities on costs, but property owners are heavily encouraged by their alderman to sign up quickly and reserve a spot.

Why is the Sidewalk Program Popular in Chicago?

Property owners quickly flock to sign up, but they are doing so at a price tag of $600 to $1500 in repairs for what is technically city property. After all, who owns the sidewalks and who should be responsible for fixing them when they become a safety hazard?

Sadly, the city seems to ignore that responsibility, and they are trying to encourage property owners to fix sidewalks that are not their responsibility. Property owners in the city are tired of waiting for their sidewalks to be made safe again, and the policies for the city are not clear either on who should front the bill.

The laws regarding sidewalk repairs need a severe overhaul because if someone is seriously injured, it is not clear in the law who would be financially responsible either.

In one case in 2015, the Illinois Supreme Court had to decide who was responsible for a private citizen who fell on a sidewalk and sued the city of Chicago. In this case, the owner and city both denied responsibility for the injuries, and the law was not clear as to who would be responsible either.

The City is Not Claiming Responsibility for All Sidewalks

Right now, Chicago seems to pick and choose which sidewalks are theirs and which are the responsibility of the property owner. For lawmakers, not all sidewalks are created equal. Sidewalks that are in busy business districts are more likely to be repaired on the city’s dime than one in a neighborhood – even though private homeowners do not own the sidewalk.

Right now, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), plays the part of deeming when a sidewalk is a liability, and who will repair it. They do not have a strict guideline for deciding which sidewalks are improved in the city either. Instead, they will only front the cost of a repair when that sidewalk is deemed dangerous.

In some cases, the aldermen must fix the sidewalks, and each alderman has their fund that they can use for repairs inside their ward. Most of those funds, however, go to repairing the streets and not the sidewalks.

The Shared Cost Sidewalk Program

This program was designed to help bridge the gap between city and ward funds and private funding. When the ward spends their discretionary fund on road repairs, they have very little (if any) left over for the sidewalks. Therefore, the city initiated the Shared Cost Sidewalk Program to help offset the costs.

The city felt it was the fastest way to fix sidewalks because they knew property owners would not want to risk a lawsuit or be caught in legal limbo if someone were to fall on that sidewalk outside of his or her property.

Property owners in less affluent communities of the city rarely can participate in these programs. Moreover, the city itself is in a budgetary crisis. Every year the city must carefully allocate funds that they do not have available for projects, including updating sidewalks and roadways.

In more impoverished communities, waiting for the city to repair sidewalks that are extremely dangerous is the only option. However, if someone were to trip or slip on those surfaces, would the property owner be liable because they had to wait for the city to fix it?

The Dangers of Broken or Uneven Sidewalks

Due to the volume of people coming and going, a sidewalk must be maintained to prevent trips and falls. Most homeowners and cities underestimate how common and catastrophic these accidents can be, and they also do not realize how they should be more proactive in preventing these injuries entirely.

All it takes is an inspection of a sidewalk periodically to determine if the repairs are necessary. The city can send inspectors to areas every so often to check on city sidewalks, but also respond to property owner requests when a homeowner or business owner in the city feels their sidewalk is dangerous.

A sidewalk should be:

  • In excellent condition, free of cracks and any potholes where a person’s foot might become caught. If there is a crack more significant than a quarter inch, it should be repaired because that is big enough to create a tripping hazard.
  • Free of gravel, mud, and other slipping hazards.
  • Free of depressions where water can pool and freeze over.
  • Free of tree roots that cause sidewalks to buckle or heave under pressure.
  • Free of poor patches that crack or warp over time – creating a hazard.

How Sidewalk Injuries Happen

Sidewalk injuries are more common than you might realize. While not every person who trips and falls on a sidewalk files a lawsuit, sometimes the injuries are severe enough that the victim has no choice.

Victims can be any age, while a vast majority are the elderly and small children. Falling on concrete is very serious and can lead to permanent injuries.

Just some reasons sidewalk accidents happen include:

  • Tree roots have lifted the sidewalk surface or cracked the sidewalk.
  • Sidewalks become uneven from settling.
  • Sidewalks crack and warp over time from salting and shoveling snow in the winter.
  • Sidewalks become slippery when water can freeze overnight.
  • Road construction leaves mud and debris on the sidewalk surfaces – creating slippery conditions.
  • Concrete has aged and begun disintegrating over time.

The Injuries from a Slip and Trip and Fall are Serious

You might not think a trip or slip, and fall can be severe, but you would be surprised at just how severe they are. While injuries will vary, some common types include:

  • Broken bones or fractures
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
  • Spinal cord trauma
  • Back injuries
  • Cuts and lacerations
  • Sprains or strains
  • Ligament Tears
  • Bruises

Sidewalk Injuries are Premises Liability Cases

If you are injured on a sidewalk, and you need compensation for those injuries, you could file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. In Chicago, finding out who is responsible can be difficult, especially when the private property owner and city refuse to take responsibility for a sidewalk.

In these instances, it is essential that you speak with a Chicago personal injury attorney. An attorney has experience with trips and slips on sidewalks, and they know the proper procedure for notifying the city and owner of a potential lawsuit.

When you are suing the government for sidewalk injuries, you follow different procedures than you would a private citizen. In these cases, you must notify the government and follow specific procedures. Failing to do so not only will delay your case, but could bar you from seeking compensation if you wait too long.

What Compensation Can You Receive for a Sidewalk Injury Case?

The amount of compensation you receive depends entirely on the unique circumstances of your case. Your attorney will need to consider the following factors:

  • The Severity of the Injury – First, your attorney will need to review the severity of the injury. Will you recover from your injuries or do you have permanent impairments? How long did you suffer from physical and emotional pain associated with the injury? How much longer will you have physical pain?
  • The Damages – Your attorney will look at the numbers, which include the costs of medical care (including future medical expenses), lost wages, and any loss of earning potential associated with your case.
  • The Amount of Negligence – The amount of negligence also plays a role in deciding compensation. If a property owner is grossly negligent, such as knowing that they had a serious hazard but refusing to fix that hazard, then you might receive higher compensation than an accident where the homeowner knew there was a hazard, but just had not had the time to fix it but intended to do so.

Speak with an Injury Attorney in Chicago Today

If you or a loved one tripped and fell on a sidewalk, seek medical treatment right away. Then, contact an attorney from Malman Law. Our team is here to help assess your options and determine if the city or property owner is liable. Furthermore, we will fight for your right to compensation.

Contact us today at 312-629-0999 or request more information online.

Steve Malman

Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.

Years of experience: +30 years
Justia Profile: Steve Malman
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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