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New York City Sidewalk Accident Attorneys

Cracked sidewalk, NYC Sidewalk accident lawyers

Most New Yorkers are sharply attuned to the dangers of navigating city streets. Coexisting with cars, trucks, bicycles, pedicabs, and scrambling fellow pedestrians is a demanding prospect, and reaching your destination safely requires focus. But for a less obvious source of danger, consider this: the City of New York is forced to replace over two million square feet of defective sidewalk per year.

Sidewalk concrete is vulnerable to damage caused by everything from poor soil irrigation to the natural growth of adjacent tree roots, and the resulting holes, cracks, and flags endanger pedestrians, particularly when they appear on a familiar route that was previously safe.

And damage isn’t the only source of sidewalk injury—unshoveled snow, unsalted ice, decorative sidewalk features, and insecure utility vaults all present their own risks.

Need to Know

  • Damaged concrete, decorative features, and the presence of snow and ice are all potential dangers to pedestrians on sidewalks.
  • If you or a loved one experiences an accident on a New York sidewalk, the first step is to file an incident report.
  • Most sidewalks legally belong to the owner of the property the sidewalk rests in front of, but some city sidewalks may belong to the City of New York itself. A good attorney will help you to navigate the complexities of sidewalk ownership and determine liability.

What To Do if You Are Injured in a Sidewalk Accident

If you or a loved one is injured in a sidewalk accident, you should try to have a police report generated and/or report the accident to the owner, if possible. It is also a good idea, if feasible, to take photographs of the sidewalk area. The defective condition that caused your accident may change over time and a prompt photograph can prove to be invaluable later. Witnesses to your accident can be critical to the success of a lawsuit. Make an effort to identify any witnesses and get their names and contact information.

Generally speaking, a sidewalk in New York State is considered the property of whoever owns the home or storefront that the sidewalk is in front of. If your accident occurred on privately-owned property, you will have three years to file a negligence case against the owner.

In some cases, however, a city sidewalk may be owned by the City of New York itself, either because it is on city property or, more rarely, because it is in an area with no individual private property owners. If you are filing a suit against the City of New York, you will have only 90 days—around three months—to file a notice of claim, and 1 year and 90 days following the incident to file a lawsuit.

In either case, it is advisable to act quickly. Even if you’re fairly certain that you know who is liable, complexities may arise when you start to take legal action. For example, two adjacent property owners may come into conflict regarding who was responsible for the sidewalk where the incident occurred. Block O’Toole & Murphy dealt with one such incident in which the disruption was not caused by either property owner, but by ongoing construction work in the immediate vicinity. In that case, our lawyers included the construction company as an additional defendant in the lawsuit. If there is any uncertainty about liability, a good attorney will determine it in the process of investigation and help you to navigate the complexities of your case.

In the meantime, take steps to create a record of the incident. Ideally, do so through the entity you believe to be liable. For example, if your accident takes place outside a restaurant, make sure that a person in a position of authority within that restaurant is told about the incident, and request politely that they generate an incident report, memorializing the accident and its circumstances. Having a record of the incident with the defendant will strengthen your case before it starts.

What If I Experience Symptoms but They Are Not Immediate?

It may happen that you believe yourself to be unhurt in a sidewalk accident, but begin to experience symptoms within a week, a month, or more. If you find yourself suffering from the effects of a sidewalk accident you initially thought was harmless, you can still take steps to make your case more effective when you undergo medical examination.

When being examined, be sure to mention the incident to your doctor so that it is memorialized in your medical records. Not mentioning the accident during your first report could adversely affect your case. Be very specific about when the sidewalk incident occurred, providing a clear date. Claiming liability will be challenging if you cannot prove the presence of any danger at the time of the incident. Telling your doctor, for example, that the accident took place “about a week ago” may negatively affect an investigation in the long term. This is particularly true if your injury was caused by snow, ice, or other elements, in which case it will be important to establish the weather and temperature at the time the accident occurred.

What Do I Need to Prove Liability?

Contemporaneous photographs and videos are key to enhancing a sidewalk accident case. Your attorney will likely send investigators to the scene to conduct a careful examination, and, in cases where the sidewalk is broken, to document the extent and depth of the damage using a 3D scanner.

Such an investigation can be helpful even if the property owner has taken belated steps toward making repairs or tried to remove evidence of liability. One case our firm handled involved an injury caused by decorative sidewalk features in front of a restaurant. By the time investigators took our client to the scene to point out the area where the incident occurred, the owners of the restaurant had dug up the sidewalk. Chunks of the dismantled sidewalk, with the decorative details that caused the accident still attached, had been left in a public area in front of the restaurant. The legal team from Block O’Toole & Murphy took the chunks of sidewalk to court with them, allowing the jury to see—and even touch and feel—the source of danger for themselves.

Along with evidence of danger, premises liability claims require proof that the property owner had sufficient notice of the problem to take appropriate action, and failed to do so. Legally speaking, such notice can fall under one of two distinct categories: actual notice and constructive notice.

  • Actual notice exists where the property owner was aware of danger on their property. For example, suppose an investigation turns up evidence that a neighbor alerted the property owner to the presence of a sidewalk flag a month prior to the incident. The property owner had actual notice of the damage.
  • Constructive notice applies in cases where the property owner should have been aware of the danger if they were exercising reasonable care over their property. Consider, for instance, a sidewalk that is covered in ice due to a burst pipe inside the house. The burst pipe flooded the living room as well as the front yard. A homeowner who denies knowledge is still responsible due to constructive notice, since attending properly to their premises would have alerted them to the problem.

Actual and constructive notice may vary depending on the circumstances of the incident, and an experienced attorney will help you determine the specifics. However, being aware of the concept of constructive notice may give you the confidence to pursue your case, even if the property owner claims a lack of express knowledge.

Case Results in Sidewalk Accidents

The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy have a strong track record of advocating for victims of sidewalk accidents. Our successes include:

  • $3,500,000 settlement for a 31-year-old Brooklyn furniture maker who suffered hypothermia and herniated discs after the door of a sidewalk electrical vault collapsed, causing him to fall 13 feet into cold water.
  • $2,750,000 settlement for a mother of two who tripped on an uneven sidewalk outside a Bronx shopping center, causing injuries to both knees which required a total of four (4) knee surgeries, including a partial left knee replacement.
  • $1,500,000 settlement for a 29-year-old mother of three who slipped and fell on an icy Bronx sidewalk, necessitating a cervical spinal fusion surgery.
  • $1,000,000 settlement for a 44-year-old pedestrian who tripped and fell over a raised sidewalk flag, leading to injuries that caused chronic pain and necessitated physical therapy, an Anterior Cervical Fusion and Discectomy, and other treatments.

The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy serve all five boroughs of New York City as well as the entirety of New York State. Contact Block O’Toole & Murphy to receive a free legal consultation by calling 212-736-5300, or by filling out our online contact form.

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