According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, annually, around 4,500 pedestrians are killed in traffic crashes with motor vehicles in the United States.  Many of these accidents are preventable.  Providing walkways separated from the travel lanes could help prevent up to 88% of these walking along roadway crashes.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, sidewalks separated from the roadway are the preferred accommodation for pedestrians.  Sidewalks provide many benefits including, safety, mobility and healthier communities. Roadways without sidewalks are more than twice as likely to have pedestrian crashes as sites with sidewalks on both sides of the street.

But what happens when those sidewalks are not built and/or maintained properly?  Some common types of defective sidewalks include:

  • Vertical Separation – if more than ¼ inch exists between any two panels of a sidewalk.  Can be caused by tree roots or settlement of a utility trench;
  • Horizontal Separation – exists with more than ½ inch of separation in the width of panels or at a crack;
  • Multiple Cracking – if the sidewalk has cracked in such a manner that no part thereof is greater than one square foot;
  • Holes -depressions of 3 inches or more in diameter and ½ inch or more in depth
  • Spalling – occurs when the cement has deteriorated and the aggregate below the surface of the sidewalk is exposed
  • Missing Sidewalk (sections/pieces) – If part of the sidewalk is missing to the full depth, replacement of the missing panel is required;
  • Ponding Water – If the sidewalk has settled allowing water to pond to a depth greater than ¾ of an inch

In many cases the injury is a direct result of a municipality failing to institute and/or conscientiously follow its own policies regarding inspection, maintenance, and repair of miles of sidewalks.

Maintenance and repair of public and private sidewalks is generally the responsibility of the owner of the sidewalk.  This could be an individual, a business or a homeowner’s association or a local governmental authority. 

The liability of a municipality for injuries on public sidewalks depends in large part on state laws.  Some states require that the city or municipality must have had prior notice of a defective sidewalk and did not act to repair it within a reasonable time period.  And in states that allow a claim for a defective sidewalk, there are usually strict notice and time deadlines for making personal injury claims arising from a defective sidewalk. 

Some typical municipal codes provide laws that require the proper upkeep of sidewalks:

No owner of property, improved or unimproved, abutting on a public sidewalk, shall permit the sidewalk to deteriorate to such a condition that, because of cracks, chipping, weeds, settling, covering by dirt, or other similar occurrences, the sidewalk becomes a hazard to persons using it