Under Pennsylvania law, homeowners can be held liable for a sidewalk fall accident that occurs on their property. Our personal injury law practice sees an uptick in sidewalk trip and fall cases in the spring and summer, when more people are out walking. This is true in Philadelphia as well as the surrounding counties, like Delaware County and Montgomery County.
Homeowner Liability for Sidewalks in PA
In PA, homeowners can be held liable for sidewalk accidents if ALL of the following are true:
- The homeowner knows or should know about the dangerous condition and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to others on the property (including pedestrians on sidewalk), and should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, and
- The homeowner fails to exercise reasonable care to fix the condition or fails to warn others, and
- The pedestrian did not know or have reason to know of the condition.
These factors apply to sidewalk fall accident cases involving pedestrians, as well as sidewalk fall cases involving others, like mail or delivery persons.
1. What Did the Homeowner Know?
If a homeowner knows of a dangerous condition on the property and sidewalk and should also expect that a pedestrian or someone else legally on the property wouldn’t notice the dangerous condition, the homeowner has to do something about it.
What if the owner didn’t actually know about dangerous condition? Homeowners can still be held liable if they should have known about the condition. Here, the facts surrounding the sidewalk defect are important, such as where the sidewalk defect was located on the property, when the sidewalk was originally poured, nearby trees, etc.
Here’s an example of liability where the homeowner didn’t have actual knowledge of a sidewalk defect. In a fall accident lawsuit, the issue is whether the homeowner should have known about the defect, a pipe sticking out of the sidewalk. If the homeowner walks by the pipe every day while walking to their car, there’s a greater likelihood of liability. However, if the pipe/sidewalk is located on a remote part of the property, an area the homeowner and others don’t regularly walk on, the homeowner probably wouldn’t be liable.
2. Did the Homeowner Fail to Take Reasonable Action?
Once a homeowner knows about a dangerous condition, they must take reasonable action to either fix the condition or warn others about it by putting a flag on it, painting it a bright color, etc. In a sidewalk trip and fall case, this would mean fixing the defect or at the very least, placing a warning around it. If the homeowner fails to take these kinds of steps, and a pedestrian falls on the sidewalk as a result, the homeowner would be liable.
3. What Did the Pedestrian Know?
If a pedestrian knew about the condition or should have known about the condition at any point prior to the accident, they would likely lose the case. The key is the extent of the pedestrian’s previous encounters or experience with that specific sidewalk or property.
For example, a pedestrian walking her dog trips over a broken sidewalk in her neighborhood in Philadelphia. The investigation reveals that the pedestrian walked her dog on the same stretch of sidewalk at least once a day for the past several months. Given the circumstances, a court would likely find that the pedestrian should have known about the broken sidewalk, and therefore, there’s a good chance she would lose the case.
However, let’s say that the pedestrian’s accident happened on a sidewalk the pedestrian had never walked on before. In that case, the case would likely survive. The difference in the two scenarios is the extent of the pedestrian’s previous encounters with the sidewalk. In the first, the pedestrian had previously walked over the same sidewalk many times before, whereas in the second, she had never walked over the sidewalk.