Who Is Responsible If You Trip and Fall on the Sidewalk?

Monday, August 6, 2018

Who Is Responsible If You Trip and Fall on the Sidewalk?

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

Most people do not put much thought into walking down the sidewalk. You just assume that if you are walking, pushing a stroller, or your child is riding a skateboard that the sidewalk is safe. All it takes is a crack, sheet of ice, or uneven pavement to make a person unexpectedly topple face first onto the concrete.

In most trip and falls, there are no serious injuries. However, there are instances where a person might trip, slip, or fall on a sidewalk and suffer from more severe injuries like broken bones, lacerations, or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). When sidewalk injuries result in serious harm, you may want to know who you can hold accountable for those injuries – whether it is the owner, city, or a third party.

Common Causes of Sidewalk Injuries in Chicago

Sidewalks are used heavily, especially downtown. These surfaces remain in place for years before they undergo repair, and sometimes they are put on the backburner due to city budgetary constraints. Some common causes of serious injuries on sidewalks include:

  • Cracks – A crack in the sidewalk creates uneven surfaces and raised elevations. They typically develop from trees, severe weather changes, soil shifting underneath, age, and the dramatic changes between hot and cold weather that Chicago often sees. Sometimes, a crack might occur because of deteriorating materials or poor construction.
  • Potholes – Potholes typically develop as the concrete separates. Water pooling during the rainy season, snow, and ice all create potholes. Potholes not only form an uneven surface, but they also provide an area where water can pool and freeze quickly in the winter – both create tripping hazards.
  • Debris – Sometimes, it is not the sidewalk itself but what is on the sidewalk that causes an injury. Sidewalks are littered with debris, including fallen leaves that become slick, children’s toys, lawn care equipment, construction debris, and more. Any of these items can create an unsafe surface.
  • Ice and Snow – A common cause for a slip and fall on concrete is ice and snow accumulation. Ice is difficult to see, and even a person walking carefully can experience a severe slip and fall.

How the Law Dictates Responsibility for Sidewalk Repairs

Property owners are required to repair uneven surfaces, potholes, and any obstacles that could create a safety hazard on their sidewalks. Property owners must correct the problems on sidewalks designated as part of their property and those in front of their property. Most cities require that they remove snow and ice accumulation within a reasonable time after a storm.

One thing to remember is that a broken sidewalk might not be the homeowner’s responsibility but could fall on the city, depending on municipalities and regulations. Therefore, you need to know the differences between homeowner responsibility and city responsibility.

Homeowners and Business Owners

Cities have different regulations regarding sidewalk maintenance. Most, however, hold homeowners and business owners responsible for any sidewalk adjoining their property.

The city of Chicago, for example, requires that property owners remove snow and ice from their sidewalks per Municipal Code of Chicago 4-4-310 and 10-8-180. The code requires that snow is removed as soon as possible after it falls. And if the snow falls between the hours of 7:00 am and 7:00 pm, it must be removed before 10:00 pm. Snow that falls overnight must be removed by 10:00 am the following morning.

Therefore, if you were to trip and fall on a sidewalk because it was slick with ice and that homeowner or business owner failed to remove the ice in the designated time, they would be responsible for your injuries.

The same goes for removing tripping hazards such as lawn care equipment or children’s toys on the sidewalk. If you were to leave obstacles on your sidewalk that later lead to someone tripping and falling, you could be liable for their injuries.


Typically, the city or municipality is responsible for sidewalks that are not adjoining private property. The liability is similar to private property where the municipality must try to make their sidewalks safe – including repairing any defects or dangerous conditions.

Chicago does have a sidewalk program where homeowners can apply for a reduced replacement cost and share the replacement and repair costs of their sidewalks with the city. Normally, a homeowner would be required to replace these sidewalks. But in this case, the city offers a shared cost program to rehabilitate sidewalks that would typically be at full cost for the homeowner or business owner.

The Issue of Reasonable Time

Every time a pedestrian is injured in a trip, slip, or fall on a sidewalk, the property owner is not always at fault. The law gives a reasonable homeowner time to correct a safety hazard on their property.

For example, ice builds up on a sidewalk overnight in front a store. The store had closed at 7:00 pm and a pedestrian walking through at midnight slips on the ice and injures themselves. The snow and ice did not accumulate until after the store had closed. Therefore, it is unlikely the store’s owner would be liable, because they did not have a reasonable time to find the ice and correct it.

If that same store owner did not clear the ice by morning, especially within the Chicago snow removal time limits, then they would be liable if the pedestrian was injured the next day.

How Much Time Does the Court Consider to Be Reasonable?

What is reasonable to some might not be reasonable to the court. Instead, the court considers how much time a person would have to discover the defect and correct it. Snow and ice removal would have less of a timeframe compared to more serious flaws. However, if the property owner does not take measures to deter people from the defect, then they could still be liable – even if they are waiting for the defect to be repaired.

This is because injuries like this come down to negligence and a person’s duty of care to the public. If you know your sidewalk is dangerous and there is a defect that could easily trip someone, leaving it there could still make you liable, even if you have a contractor coming to repair it the following week. The only way to escape liability would be to tape off the area or put up signs warning of the potential hazard – similar to a store posting a “wet floor” sign on slick surfaces.

The Exception for Government

The government is responsible for millions of square feet of sidewalk. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect them to patrol every inch in the city and be liable the second a pothole or crack forms. The only way to prove the city knew of the defect is through proper notices.

Actual Notices and Constructive Notices

Actual notice is when a citizen writes a complaint to the municipality informing them of the dangerous condition. While this serves as proof the city knew of the defect, they may not be liable if the flaw was too minor.

Constructive notice is when the municipality is aware of a dangerous condition that would not be classified as “minor.” For example, a large pothole in a sidewalk or piece of sidewalk that has lifted several inches because of tree roots.

Proving Your Claim Is Key

Proving a sidewalk trip and fall case might be difficult, but it is not impossible. You will need to show credible evidence that the owner or city knew of the defect and failed to rectify it. You can do so by providing:

  • Photographs: Photographs of the dangerous sidewalk condition are the best piece of evidence you can collect. A picture with a measuring device showing how big the pothole or uneven surface is can also help.
  • Witness Statements: Other witnesses who saw you trip and fall or that have witnessed the dangerous condition can also prove your claim.
  • Surveys: Sometimes owners will claim that the sidewalk is not their responsibility. The only way to prove the sidewalk is their property is through the local tax department. You can look up the survey plot and property’s boundaries, which demonstrates the party responsible for the sidewalk.
  • Damages: Even if you can prove there was a dangerous condition and you know who is responsible for the sidewalk, you must have damages. An accident without damages does not qualify as a valid case. Damages come in numerous forms but often include medical costs, lost wages, pain, and suffering.

Speak with an Attorney about Your Sidewalk Trip and Fall

If you or a loved one was injured in a slip, trip, or fall on a sidewalk, it is essential that you speak to an attorney. Identifying the party at fault can be difficult in these cases, and proving your case requires someone with experience handling sidewalk injury claims.

Let the team at Malman Law help you with your case. Schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation at 888-307-7068 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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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by President and Founder, Steven J. Malman who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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