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Who Is Responsible for a Dangerous Sidewalk?

Sidewalks in disrepair are becoming an increasingly common sight throughout many of the cities and towns of central and southeastern Pennsylvania. It should come as no surprise that slip and trip accidents caused by dangerous sidewalks have also become increasingly common. In these cases, it may not always be clear who is responsible for maintenance and, by extension, liable for injuries caused by the failure to maintain.

It’s easy to assume that because sidewalks are public property, the government is responsible for any injuries they cause. The truth is significantly more complicated. Under Pennsylvania’s governmental immunity laws, the identity of the responsible party depends on the exact nature and cause of the dangerous condition:

  • For most accidents involving dangerous sidewalks, the property owner responsible for the sidewalk is primarily liable. Most often this is the residential or business tenant whose premises are adjacent to the sidewalk. The municipality is only secondarily liable.
  • In cases involving sidewalks made uneven by the roots of trees under the custody and control of the municipality, the municipality may be primarily liable if the injury was reasonably foreseeable given the condition of the sidewalk.

Despite the extra requirements the law imposes when suing a municipality, they are generally good defendants because they are more likely to make good for any damages they caused. However, it is generally advisable to include every defendant against which a reasonable claim can be made. Fortunately, experienced Lancaster County premises liability attorneys know how to manage complex litigation involving multiple defendants and government entities.

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