Damaged Sidewalks: Know Your Responsibility

Posted by Safeco October 24, 2016
Sidewalk Liability Claims

Who Pays if Someone Falls on Your Sidewalk?

A cracked sidewalk – minor annoyance or major lawsuit risk? Well, it’s a little bit of both.

If you’re a property owner, it’s important to identify and carry out your sidewalk maintenance responsibilities. Here are a few important things to think about:

Who is Responsible for Sidewalk Repairs?

The answer depends on where you live but will likely resemble one of these scenarios:

  • The property owner must handle and pay for sidewalk repairs.
  • The city handles and pays for sidewalk repairs.
  • The city handles sidewalk repairs but bills the property owner for the full or partial costs.

To understand what responsibility you bear, check with your town’s public works or transportation department website. Or, check with your homeowners’ association, or your lease if you rent a house, to determine who is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk adjoining the property.

Sure, it may seem easier to just ignore the issue, but that isn’t likely to get you off the hook for a sidewalk liability claim. You can still be sued for neglecting to maintain the sidewalk even if you were unaware of the responsibility. So, check in with your city today.

While you’re at it, also check whether you are responsible for keeping the sidewalk in front of or alongside your home free of debris, such as trash cans, fallen limbs or snow and ice. You most likely are.

What’s at Risk in a Sidewalk Liability Claim?

Potentially a lot. You might be liable if a pedestrian trips over cracked or broken pavement on the sidewalk in front of your house. Whether it’s a bloody nose or a broken hip, you could be held responsible for medical bills and other costs, such as loss of income if the person is unable to work.

Protect yourself and your assets by understanding your municipality’s regulations for sidewalk maintenance, and doing your part. Taking steps to address hazards makes it harder for a lawsuit to prove that you were negligent. That could mean hiring contractors to complete the repairs, or it could mean reporting the problem to your city, depending on local regulations.

What Sidewalk Damage Should I Address?

Your own city may have specific guidelines, but the city of Portland, Oregon, recommends addressing the following hazards:

  • A vertical separation or crack that is ½-inch or greater.
  • Sidewalks that are chipped or deteriorated ½-inch deep or deeper.
  • Holes or openings wider than ½-inch.
  • Raised sidewalks where the highest portion is more than 4 inches from grade.
  • Sunken sidewalks where the lowest portion is more than 4 inches from grade.
  • A cross slope that exceeds 2 percent.

Remember that you may need to get a permit to proceed with sidewalk repairs. Check with your city for recommended or approved contractors.

That busted up sidewalk in front of your house may not have ranked highly on your to-do list in the past. But, now would be a good time to check on your sidewalk maintenance responsibilities and resolve any issues before serious trouble arrives at your door.


Get an Umbrella Policy to Help Cover Your Sidewalk

Your homeowners policy may already provide some liability protection for injuries sustained on your sidewalk. But, in the case of a major injury, expenses can add up quickly and potentially exhaust the limits of your coverage. That’s where an umbrella policy may prove its worth. Umbrella insurance adds an extra layer of liability protection on top of your other policies. Check with your independent insurance agent to review your liability risks and discuss whether umbrella insurance is available to enhance your coverage.


Tell us what you think

Let the world know what you think, but do so responsibly. Comments are moderated and we will not post personal attacks, obscene language or inappropriate material, comments with links, or comments from people under the age of 18. If you have a question, check out our Comment Submission Guidelines.

By posting your comment, you agree to our site's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

© 2017 Liberty Mutual Insurance, 175 Berkeley Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02116

Insurance is offered by Safeco Insurance Company of America and/or its affiliates, with their principal place of business at 175 Berkeley Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02116. This website provides a simplified description of coverage. Nothing stated herein creates a contract. All statements made are subject to the provisions, exclusions, conditions and limitations of the applicable insurance policy. Please refer to actual policy forms for complete details regarding the coverage discussed. If the information in these materials conflicts with the policy language that it describes, the policy language prevails. Coverages and features not available in all states. Eligibility is subject to meeting applicable underwriting criteria.