Sidewalks are a vital part of city infrastructure. For safety and convenience, sidewalks must remain usable for all pedestrians, especially those with disabilities. All walkways should be in good shape and free of ice and debris.
If a sidewalk is damaged or unsafe, those using it could be seriously injured. However, who exactly is responsible for keeping sidewalks safe is a common point of confusion. We’ll break down laws and ordinances regarding sidewalks in Seattle.
Who is Responsible for Snowy, Icy, or Obstructed Sidewalks?
Seattle Municipal Code generally requires that property owners maintain the sidewalk in front of and adjacent to their property. Walkways must be kept fit and safe for pedestrian travel. This means that property owners are usually responsible for shoveling their sidewalks after it snows.
Property owners should also remain vigilant in keeping their sidewalks free of obstructions. This includes overgrown vegetation. Vegetation must be maintained regularly to keep it from impeding pedestrians on the walkway.
According to SDOT, vegetation should be kept:
- 8 feet above the sidewalk
- 14 feet above the curb
- 1 foot back from the edge of the sidewalk
Assigning responsibility for maintaining sidewalks is not as straightforward as it may seem though. The Washington Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that homeowners should take corrective action within a reasonable time to make their sidewalks safe. However, homeowners must have actual knowledge of unsafe conditions in order to be held responsible.
Technically, property owners can be fined for failing to maintain the sidewalks in front of their property. The code can be difficult to enforce, however, and some have expressed frustration with SDOT for not prioritizing the maintenance of high-traffic sidewalks.
Proving liability in a slip-and-fall case can quickly become complex—an attorney can help you determine who is responsible for your injuries.
Who Is Responsible for Maintaining Parking Lots and Other Pathways?
Parking lots and pathways usually fall to the responsibility of the property owner. In business spaces, the property owner may be held liable if someone is injured due to their failure to maintain the space.
Common causes of slip-and-fall accidents in parking lots and pathways include:
- Slippery or icy surfaces
- Uneven or damaged walkways
- Debris or other obstructions on a pathway
- Poor lighting
Property owners should ensure their property is safe for guests by clearing ice, snow, and debris, repairing damage, and ensuring the space is properly lit.
However, property owners may not always be fully responsible for dangerous conditions. For example, if a construction company working nearby created hazardous conditions that led to an injury, they may be found partly or fully responsible.
What Should Property Owners Do About Uneven or Damaged Sidewalks?
Over time, sidewalks often become cracked, loose, or lifted. Damaged walkways present a serious tripping hazard. They can also make entire areas impassable to those in wheelchairs.
If the Seattle Department of Transportation determines a sidewalk to be unsafe, they may direct the abutting property owner to fix the problem. SDOT may choose to spray paint the damaged area to increase visibility until it is repaired.
SDOT has defined an unfit or unsafe sidewalk as any that meets one or more of the following criteria:
- The sidewalk is cracked
- The sidewalk has a discontinuity of half an inch or more
- Any piece of the sidewalk can be moved with ordinary foot pressure
- Any part of the sidewalk is sloping at such a grade that it is unsafe for pedestrian use
Property owners who are directed to fix their sidewalks may need to obtain a sidewalk repair permit. After the permit is approved, a concrete contractor should fix the sidewalk and ensure it is up to city standards for safety.
Street trees (or trees on a citizen’s property) that were not planted by the city are usually the responsibility of the property owner. If a tree’s roots are growing under the sidewalk and damaging it, SDOT arborists can help property owners determine the appropriate next steps.
Trees planted by the city are maintained by SDOT or Parks Urban Forestry crews. Additionally, if a sidewalk is damaged by the city during construction, the city should cover costs to repair the walkway.
As is often the case, determining responsibility can be complex and in some instances the government may be responsible for injuries resulting from cracked sidewalks. This is why anyone injured in a slip and fall accident would be wise to obtain a free consultation with an attorney.
Who Is Responsible if Someone Slips and Falls on an Icy Sidewalk?
When a pedestrian is injured on a sidewalk, there are several variables that must be considered when determining liability. If the pedestrian was acting irresponsibly or unsafely, they may be liable for their own injury. Likewise, if the pedestrian was trespassing on private property, they are responsible for their accident.
If a property owner fails to shovel or salt the sidewalk in front of their property, they may be responsible for any injuries caused by the slippery surface.
On a public sidewalk (such as a sidewalk adjacent to a public park or government building), the city or county may be responsible for clearing the ice. If they fail to do so and someone slips, they may be liable.
However, if the hazard was “open and obvious,” or the injured party can’t prove the property owner was negligent, the property owner may not be found liable for the accident.
I Was Injured on an Unsafe Sidewalk. What Should I Do?
If you have been hurt in a slip-and-fall accident because of a property owner’s negligence, you will need to take the following steps to protect your right to a claim.
Check for injuries
Immediately after falling, take inventory of your injuries. If you have serious injuries, such as head or back injuries, you may need to call an ambulance. If your injuries are more minor, you may not need emergency medical attention. Take pictures of any visible injuries you have.
Document the scene
Take pictures and videos of the area where you fell. If the sidewalk was icy, obstructed, or uneven, be sure to get plenty of evidence of these hazards. The property owner may try to deny that the sidewalk was unsafe, so it is helpful to have as much proof as possible to back up your claim.
File a written report
If the sidewalk was the responsibility of a business or organization, file a written report with the company, manager, or landlord. Ask for a copy of the report for your records. If the property owner is a private entity, like the resident of a single-family home, still inform them of your accident.
Keep your interactions with the property owner quick and professional. Do not admit fault for your accident. Stay calm and polite while the report is written. Explain the facts surrounding your accident, but do not speculate or become accusatory.
Write down exactly what happened as soon as you can– the fresher your memories, the more accurate the report will be. Document exactly what you were doing when you fell, what caused the fall, and how you landed. Write down the exact time and date of your accident.
Get contact information from witnesses
If anyone saw your accident, ask them for the following information:
- Phone number
Their recollection of the event may prove useful to your case later. If you fail to get their contact information at the scene, it will likely be difficult, if not impossible, to track them down later.
Seek medical treatment
Even if you do not believe you are seriously injured, see a medical professional as soon as you can. Inform them that you were involved in a slip and fall accident. You may have hidden injuries that you are unaware of. These injuries could get worse if left untreated.
Common slip and fall injuries include:
- Head injuries
- Spine, back, or neck injuries
- Internal bleeding
- Hip injuries
- Wrist and elbow injuries
- Broken bones
- Sprains, strains, and muscle tears
- Bruising and lacerations
Additionally, you often must wait until you are finished with treatment before you can settle a personal injury case. This way, you will know the sum total of the damages you incurred and can ask for appropriate compensation.
Get a free consultation with a personal injury attorney
The property owner’s insurance company likely won’t make it easy for you to collect the compensation you deserve for your accident. They may try to diminish the severity of your injuries or claim the accident was your fault. If you try to handle your claim on your own, you may end up frustrated and confused, with nothing to show for it.
An experienced slip and fall lawyer with The Advocates can help you build your case, negotiate with insurance providers, and represent you in court if necessary. We will take the stressful parts of the claims process off your plate, so you can focus on feeling better.
You deserve competent, caring legal representation for your slip and fall case. You deserve an Advocate.