Spring is Here, But Sidewalks Still Pose a Danger in New York City

This time of year can be especially treacherous on New York City sidewalks. Not only does the threat of slippery snow continue to exist, but the warmer temps of March can melt the snow only for it to freeze as glare ice during the night. Moreover, this constant thawing and freezing process can make sidewalks buckle and break, often leaving large holes and cracks in the sidewalk. All of these factors taken together can make this time of year one of the most dangerous for New York sidewalk accidents.

Given the potentially severe injuries that can occur from sidewalk accidents, it is important to know who can be held liable for your injuries if you unfortunately fall on a poorly maintained or slippery sidewalk.

Who is Responsible for Fixing and Cleaning NYC Sidewalks?

The legal concept of holding New York property owners and occupiers legally responsible for accidents that occur on their property is commonly known as “premise liability.” The liability of property owners varies greatly depending where the accident actually occurs – different property owners owe different duties to those on their property.

In the case of sidewalks in New York City, property owners whose property abuts the sidewalk may be held liable for injuries on that sidewalk resulting from defects in the sidewalk if the property owner creates the defect or causes it to occur because of a special use, OR, if a statute or ordinance create liability.

In the past, the City of New York was the party most often held responsible for sidewalk defects, but that all changed with the passage of a New York City Administrative Code section – specifically NYC Administrative Code section 7-210, which created liability by ordinance.

Section 7-210 effectively shifted tort liability from the City to the abutting property owner for injuries caused by the owner’s failure to maintain the sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition. The code section specifically says that failure to maintain the sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition includes “the negligent failure to install, construct, reconstruct, repave, repair or replace defective sidewalk flags and the negligent failure to remove snow, ice, dirt or other material from the sidewalk.”

As is quite clear from the language of the ordinance, a property owner may be held liable for not only failing to clear away snow and ice but also when they fail to adequately repair the sidewalk when it is unreasonably damaged. However, it is important to note that this ordinance does not apply to one-, two- or three-family homes that are owner occupied and used exclusively for residential purposes. In those situations, it is still possible for the City of New York to be liable for the injuries occurring on dangerously maintained sidewalks.

When Can Single Family Homes be Liable for Sidewalk Injuries?

Even though owner occupied residences of less than four units are not held liable by the NYC Administrative Code section, that does not mean the they can never be responsible for poorly maintained or slippery sidewalks – the creation of the ordinance didn’t erase all of the law regarding these homes that existed prior to the ordinance.

One-, two- and three-family homes can still be held liable for injuries that occurred on the abutting sidewalk if they created the dangerous condition or defect, or caused it to occur because of some special use of the sidewalk.

For example, if an abutting property owner breaks chunks out of the sidewalk by driving vehicles or special equipment on the sidewalk they can be held liable for any injury that occurs because of those missing pieces, even if it is a single family home. Also, if the abutting property owner throws water out onto the sidewalk, only for it to freeze, they can also be potentially liable for any injuries that occur because of the ice.

As for liability being attached by special use, imagine a property owner who installs and embeds a water shut-off valve for their private residence in the sidewalk abutting their property. If someone has an accident because of that valve, the property owner may be held responsible.

As this article illustrates, liability for sidewalk accidents is quite complicated in New York City – with even the slightest variation in circumstances leading to a completely different result. If anything, these complex legal issues only further the need to contact an experienced personal injury attorney if you have been injured in a sidewalk accident.