Navigating the bustling sidewalks of Philadelphia, one wouldn't expect them to be a setting for potential accidents. However, sidewalk slip and fall accidents are more common than many realize. When such an incident occurs, determining responsibility is not always straightforward. This article delves into the question of liability in Philadelphia's sidewalk accidents and how victims can navigate the legal maze to seek justice.
Understanding Slip and Fall Accidents
Sidewalk accidents can arise from various hazards:
- Ice or Snow: Accumulated without proper removal.
- Uneven Pavements: Caused by tree roots, erosion, or inadequate maintenance.
- Debris: Trash, fallen branches, or other obstacles.
- Poorly Maintained Public Utilities: Exposed manholes or utility covers.
The repercussions of these accidents can range from minor bruises to severe injuries that require prolonged medical care.
The Complexity of Liability in Philadelphia
Philadelphia, unlike some other jurisdictions, places the responsibility for maintaining the majority of sidewalks on property owners. However, establishing fault requires understanding both city ordinances and Pennsylvania's premises liability laws.
When the Property Owner is Liable
Under Philadelphia Code (§10-720), property owners must maintain sidewalks adjoining their property. This includes keeping them in good repair, free from obstructions, and promptly clearing snow and ice. If an accident arises from a failure in any of these aspects, the property owner can be held liable.
Note: If the sidewalk is adjacent to a residential property not used for commercial purposes, and the city planted the tree that caused the sidewalk to be uneven, the city might be responsible for its repair.
When the City is Responsible
There are instances where the City of Philadelphia might be held liable:
- City-Owned Properties: If the accident happens near public buildings, parks, or other city-owned properties, the city may be responsible.
- Public Utilities Failures: The city could be held accountable if, for instance, an accident is caused by an exposed utility cover.
Shared Liability and Comparative Negligence
In some cases, both the city and the property owner might share fault. Furthermore, Pennsylvania operates under a comparative negligence rule. This means if the victim is found partially responsible for the accident (e.g., not paying attention), any compensation awarded will be reduced by their percentage of fault.
Steps to Take After a Slip and Fall Accident
Slip and fall accidents can occur unexpectedly and can lead to significant injuries. Whether it happens at a public venue, a workplace, or someone's residence, knowing the proper steps to take immediately after can make a significant difference in ensuring one's safety, rights, and potential compensation. Here's a guide on the steps you should take following a slip and fall accident:
1. Seek Medical Attention
- Immediate Care: If the injury is severe, call 911 or ask someone nearby to do so.
- Evaluation: Even if the injuries seem minor at first, it's crucial to get a medical check-up. Some injuries may not manifest symptoms immediately.
- Documentation: Ensure all injuries and treatments are well-documented. This can be invaluable if legal action is taken later.
2. Report the Accident
- Inform the Authority: If it occurred in a store, apartment complex, or other public venue, report the incident to the management or property owner.
- Get a Written Report: Ask for a copy of the accident report before leaving the premises.
3. Document Everything
- Photographs: Take pictures of the exact location where you fell, capturing any factors that might have contributed to the accident like wet floors, broken steps, or uneven surfaces.
- Clothing and Footwear: Document or keep the shoes and clothes you were wearing at the time, as they can serve as evidence.
- Witnesses: If anyone witnessed the fall, gather their names and contact information. Their accounts can be crucial in backing up your claim.
4. Avoid Making Detailed Statements
- Remain Calm: While it's essential to report the accident, be careful not to make statements that assign blame or accept fault.
- Limited Communication: Stick to the facts when talking to the property owner or manager. It's advisable not to give detailed statements without consulting an attorney, especially if insurers get involved.
5. Seek Legal Advice
- Consultation: Consider discussing your accident with an attorney, especially if you believe negligence was involved. They can offer guidance on how to proceed and if you have a valid claim.
- Preserve Evidence: Keep all medical records, photographs, witness details, and any other pertinent information organized. Your attorney will need these for building a case.
6. Follow Medical Advice
- Treatment Plan: Strictly adhere to your doctor's recommendations. Attend all follow-up appointments.
- Documentation: Keep a diary detailing your injuries, medical treatments, pain levels, and any other disruptions the accident caused in your life.
7. Notify Insurers
- Timely Reporting: If you intend to file an insurance claim, ensure you notify your insurer in a timely manner.
- Be Cautious: When discussing the incident with insurance adjusters, be wary of making statements that could be used against your claim. It's advisable to have legal representation during such interactions.
8. Stay off Social Media
- Avoid Sharing: Refrain from discussing your accident or injuries on social media platforms. Posts, photos, or comments can potentially be used against you in legal proceedings.
How Legal Counsel Can Assist
An experienced attorney will:
- Establish Liability: They'll determine whether the property owner, the city, or both are at fault.
- Gather Evidence: From surveillance footage to property maintenance records, your attorney can collect critical evidence.
- Negotiate Settlements: Insurance companies might attempt to offer a lower settlement. An attorney can negotiate on your behalf, ensuring you receive fair compensation.
- Represent You in Court: If negotiations fail, they'll represent your interests in court.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer at van der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin, for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today
Sidewalk slip and fall accidents in Philadelphia can introduce victims to a complex legal journey. Determining responsibility requires a keen understanding of local ordinances and state laws.
At van der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin, our dedication is to champion the rights of accident victims. With vast experience in premises liability cases in Philadelphia, our team is poised to provide the guidance, support, and representation you need. If you've been a victim of a sidewalk accident, reach out to us. Together, we'll pave the path to justice.