For those of us who grew up in small-town America, most memories of childhood include happy hours spent outside, on the sidewalks of our neighborhoods. Even today those memories of the old neighborhood still speak to you of “home,” “safety,” and a carefree outlook on life. As a homeowner, however, one place of potential liability to consider is the sidewalk and parkway in front of your house.
Local Law: the Parkway, the Sidewalk and You
In California, the narrow greensward of grass planted between the public sidewalk and the street is usually referred to as the “parkway,” or sometimes as the “parking strip.” Most municipalities, in adopting beautification plans for their neighborhoods, will plant and maintain trees in the parkway area along the street. These trees can contribute to the property owner’s liability because as the trees mature their root system start to lift up portions of the concrete sidewalk, causing it to become broken or uneven.
Not surprisingly, trip and fall injuries that occur on the public sidewalk abound and municipalities frequently are sued on the theory that the uneven sidewalk causing injury is a “dangerous condition of public property.” The homeowner can also find himself one of the defendants in such a lawsuit for an injury that (1) occurred on a city-built and maintained public sidewalk, caused by (2) a city-planted and maintained tree whose root system has created the problem. While the homeowner played no active role in this scenario, depending on local law, his liability for such an injury may still be a reality.
Minimize your Risk of Exposure to Public Liability
What can the property owner do to safeguard against lawsuits arising from accidents occurring on the public sidewalk and parkway in front of his home?
(1) The most important thing to do is first read your Municipal Code for guidance regarding personal property owner liability under local law.
(2) Take a close look at the sidewalk and parkway area along the length of your property. If the sidewalk is broken or deformed, or you notice a diseased tree or one in need of pruning, contact your Public Works department or other appropriate municipal office and make a request in writing for repairs.
(3) Keep a file of all written contacts between yourself and your city wherein you requested repairs or maintenance of any public areas that surround your property.
(4) Pick up debris on the sidewalk or parkway area and clear away any fallen tree branches that could cause injury to a passerby.
With a little research, personal awareness and a careful approach toward the public property around you, you may be able to hold your neighborhood sidewalk in the same fond regard you had for it as a child.