In Danville, Illinois, a woman tripped and fell while walking on an uneven sidewalk. The lower court dismissed the case, claiming the city was immune from such cases. However, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling, and decided that the common law duty for a city to keep its sidewalks in safe working order outweighed the sovereign immunity normally granted to municipalities in negligence cases.
The city pleaded with the court that such a ruling would not only open the floodgate to further lawsuits throughout the state, but also increase the city's liability insurance. The court still believed the woman that tripped and fell on the sidewalks was due some level of compensation from the city. The case was referred back to the lower court to be decided.
Trip and Fall Sidewalk Cases -- Proving Negligence
People tripping and falling due to cracks in the sidewalk are not uncommon. However, whether or not an injured party can prevail in a lawsuit over a city, or anyone for that matter, is not clear cut. A plaintiff would have to prove a case of negligence, specifically, that the sidewalk was not kept in a good state of repair, and that the city should have known about it. How is this proven? Through a variety of factors, including the location of the sidewalk, the size of the crack, how long the crack had been there, and if the city had total control and responsibility over the sidewalk.
Piercing Sovereign Immunity
Most cities enjoy some level of sovereign immunity, which means that even if the city is found liable, it won't have to pay out any money. However, plaintiffs can try to "pierce" this immunity, as in the case in Illinois, and seek judgment. This varies by city, but it is becoming increasingly available in instances like sidewalk cases, where the sidewalk is totally in control of the city and they should have known there was a problem. However, a city will rarely admit this and hand over any money. A plaintiff will have to fight for it.
Sidewalk cases can be very tricky. Generally, plaintiffs must inform the city of an injury within 30 days, and the city will undoubtedly try to fix the sidewalk as soon as possible so that others won't be similarly injured. (Also, when you inform the city, they have notice of the faulty sidewalk, so now they are really liable for future injuries!) If you are injured by tripping on a sidewalk, contact a local personal injury attorney immediately. They will inform you of important deadlines in your area, best steps to take immediately, and how to move forward to best seek compensation.