• Bree Rutherford

Unlevel or Sunken Concrete Hazards - Who's Liable?

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

Like many pet owners, we all need to walk our dogs

to keep them from tearing the house apart or to

simply keep them healthy. And while it is not on the top of our list of threats to our physical well-being, unlevel and sunken sidewalks can present a serious

trip hazard.

There are tons of videos out there, that we all get a good laugh at, watching some unsuspecting soul take a header. While most are innocuous, I have to believe that some of those poor folks were actually hurt in one fashion or another.

As a property owner, if I have unlevel concrete areas, am I liable for a trip or fall?

The first thing to consider after such an incident is that sometimes, things really are just accidents and that it's a normal part of life for people to occasionally trip, slip, stumble, and fall. However, sidewalks and walkways sometimes become uneven, grow icy, or slippery substances can drip or spill onto them, and inevitably cause a fall.

There isn't always a malicious act or a grossly negligent property owner to blame. And, we all have an obligation to keep an eye out for where we are going (yes, that means if you trip while walking and texting, you may only have yourself to blame).

However, property owners do need to be careful in protecting those who visit their property from injury. Especially since the Consumer Product Safety Commission sites falls as the most common trip to the hospital.

Generally, a property owner is responsible for protecting those on their land from known risks of harm or things they should reasonably know about.

For instance, did you know that a ¼” difference in elevation in your sidewalk slabs (or any walkway surface) constitutes a trip hazard and could lead to civil liability for any injuries resulting from the known condition.

So, if you've been injured in a slip and fall, how do you figure out whether anyone will be liable to you for your injuries?

To be legally responsible, the owner of the premises or an employee must have either caused the spill, crack, or other tripping hazard; known about the dangerous surface but did nothing about it; or been in a position where they reasonably should have known of the dangerous surface and failed to repair it.

Of course, in most cases of liability, it'll be because the owner of the property or its employee negligently failed to observe or repair a tripping hazard.

However, it is also common for these cases to be among the hardest to prove because the risk was one that “should have been known” to the owner or its employees.

That leaves the question up to the judge or jury in many cases and is usually decided on a “common sense” basis.

Do you really want to be in this position when correcting the situation can be cost effectively repaired utilizing polyurethane foam to lift and level the dangerous condition?

In determining a property owner's "reasonableness," for purposes of a negligence claim in a slip and fall case, the law focuses on whether the owner makes regular repair and maintenance efforts and whether the property is maintained in a clean and sanitary fashion.

If you tripped on a piece of unlevel concrete, how long had it been there? Had employees walked past for years without fixing it? If you tripped on the sidewalk outside of an establishment, had the property owner taken any steps to correct the situation?

If it turns out that the answer to these questions tend to show negligence on the part of the property owner, there may be a good claim for the slip and fall injury.

However, we still have to consider how the individual’s own carelessness may have contributed to your accident.

In almost every legitimate slip or trip case, the injured person contributed to their own injury to some extent, either by not paying attention to where they were walking, allowing themselves to become distracted, etc.

As a result, the rules of "comparative negligence" help determine how much fault they should bear versus the property owner.

If they were mostly responsible for their own injuries, the property owner may not have to pay anything towards their injuries.

Similarly, if the owner is only partly responsible, the total amount of your damages for which he is responsible may be reduced accordingly.

Who's Responsible for Injuries on Unlevel Sidewalks?

Tripping on a public sidewalk. who is responsible if the property is owned by the government? That's a surprisingly difficult question.

uneven sidewalk trip hazard

Often, it will vary based on local statutes and ordinances. In some locations, public sidewalk maintenance is the responsibility of adjacent landowners. In others, the city is solely responsible.

Adding an extra layer of confusion are varying standards for government liability. In some locations, case law and even statutory provisions may create a responsibility on the part of the government to adequately maintain and repair public sidewalks and roadways, but the level of responsibility varies from minimal standards to the equivalent of any other landowner.

Most of the municipalities that we work in, the responsibility falls upon the adjacent landowner.

This could even be as severe as the municipality issuing the property owner a citation or violation of local ordinance, requiring the property owner to repair the trip hazard.

Typically, the municipality will provide a certain amount of time required to complete the repair in before the municipality will have the work performed and the property owner will be assessed the cost of the repair on their tax liability.

I know I would certainly want to be in control for the cost of this repair rather than a government entity telling me how much I owe.

Utilizing a quality contractor who specializes in the concrete lifting and leveling utilizing polyurethane foam will most likely be able to correct the situation at a much lower cost than replacement.

Who's Responsible for Injuries on Unlevel Steps?

So, on my property I have a couple of steps that lead to my front door. I have noticed one side of the step has settled a little bit but does not seem to present any real hazard. Most of us have certainly walked up or down a set of steps that just did not feel right. As little as 1” additional rise could cause you to lose balance and take a tumble.

First, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Section 504 states, “Risers shall be 4 inches high minimum and 7 inches high maximum”. Obviously, this is specific for ADA accessible facilities, but what about my house?

The general rule that most building codes follow is a 7-11 (a 7 inch rise and 11 inch run). More exactly, no more than 7 ¾ inches for the riser (vertical) and a minimum of 10 inches for the tread (horizontal or step).

Therefore, if your steps are outside of these ranges, you could be liable for the expenses that arise from a trip or fall. Most concrete steps are easily raised and leveled utilizing polyurethane foam.

Like most property owners, there are many hazards with potential for exposure to civil liability.

Sunken or unlevel sections of the sidewalk, parking lot, stairs, shop or office floor can be easily, and cost effectively remedied by lifting and leveling utilizing polyurethane foam. So the next time you are out walking the dog, you can keep your eyes on the latest video of someone taking a fall instead of worrying about where you're going.

What are your next steps? Learn more about the cost of lifting concrete or learn about the physics of how foam lifts concrete.

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