Who Pays if I’m Hurt Falling on a Public Sidewalk?


Laura Schaefer

If you’ve ever been hurt in a public place, you may wonder if it’s possible to sue your local government. A successful suit could pay enough cash to cover your medical bills and any time away from your job. After all, someone is responsible for maintaining the safety of public areas, including the sidewalk. If the responsible party fails to properly maintain these spaces, victims should receive damages to prevent future harm to others. We recently received a reader question about this kind of accident. So, we then looked into the best course of action:

Question: I was walking down the sidewalk past a government building in my downtown area early one morning a month ago and fell, breaking my back. The manhole cover that was normally covering the area where I fell was moved, not sure why, but there was no sign or barricade up. The city says it’s my fault for not noticing, but it was foggy out. Who pays my hospital bill? What I’m asking is, can I sue my town?

Answer: Your town may not, in fact, be the responsible party. In other situations like yours, victims successfully sued local utility companies that operated the manhole cover involved in their accidents.

Talk to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after your accident. This way, a local lawyer can evaluate the merits and unique circumstances of your case. Do not wait, since there may be a filing deadline of 90 days in your jurisdiction.

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Is There Legal Precedent for Sidewalk Accident Injuries Resulting in a Cash Settlement?

There is some legal precedent for a large settlement in cases like the one above from our reader. A medical student at the University of Pennsylvania fell 18 feet into a manhole after a homeless person removed the cover. Once he filed a claim through a personal injury lawyer, the school ultimately awarded the man $18 million. In this case, the victim also suffered from a broken back. That sidewalk injury accident case occurred in 2008.

Because the Trigen-Philadelphia Energy Corporation operated this particular manhole, the company was the defendant in this case, not the city. The victim’s lawyer proved the company was aware homeless people in the area frequently moved the manhole covers but did nothing to remedy the situation. It had been an ongoing problem for many years by the time the accident took place. The 2008 victim was a medical student who had to stop attending school. As a result of his injury, the 2008 plaintiff was unable to begin his career. This is one of the reasons the 2008 sidewalk injury settlement amount was so large.

How Can I Prove Negligence in a Public Space Like a Sidewalk?

If you’re hurt on a sidewalk or other public place, then take these steps right away:

  1. Get the medical attention you need before you do anything else.
  2. Then, make copies of all records and bills stemming from your accident.
  3. Finally, speak with a personal injury attorney who can tell you if your case has merit. If so, the city, business or person that’s liable for your injury may owe you a cash settlement. 

Most attorneys won’t pursue a case like this one unless your injuries are quite significant. This is because bringing a case like this forward often comes with high costs.

The attorney you choose to work with may ask if there were any witnesses to your sidewalk injury. They will also want to know if you have any photos of the area and the moved manhole cover. Finally, it’s important to determine which entity owns the manhole cover on the sidewalk where you fell. As we mentioned earlier, a utility company may actually own that manhole cover, not the city. Your attorney will investigate to determine if moved manhole covers created an ongoing problem for people using that sidewalk.

Legal Help is Available to You

If you suffer an injury on public property, consult a personal injury attorney about your situation for free. These types of lawyers always work on contingency. In other words, you only pay them a portion of your settlement if they help you win damages.

Personal injury law cases have merit when all the following are true:

  1. A legal duty existed.
  2. Another person, government body, or business failed that legal duty through intentional or accidental acts of negligence.
  3. You can show this breach of duty either directly harmed or injured you.
  4. Personal injury attorneys can then seek damages from the defendant to recover any money you lost.

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Laura Schaefer

Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.