In California, companies, organizations, and property owners have a basic legal obligation to provide safe conditions for customers and guests. When they fail to live up to this duty, serious accidents—including fall accidents—can occur. A business or property owner may be held responsible for a fall accident through a premises liability claim.
Business and property owners are responsible for both interior and exterior premises. They can be held responsible for an accidental fall that takes place in an exterior walkway, a parking lot, or a sidewalk. Here, as San Jose personal injury lawyers, we highlight three of the most important things that victims should know about outdoor fall accident claims in California.
Private Property Owners are Responsible for Outdoor Areas
California’s premises liability laws apply to both interior and exterior areas. A business or property owner has a duty to keep its outdoor areas in reasonably safe condition for customers and invited guests. Among other things, this includes exterior walkways, parking lots, and public sidewalks that are next to the property. To hold a property owner liable for an outdoor fall accident, a plaintiff must the property owner was negligent for failing to take reasonable safety precautions to prevent an accident or injury.
California Law Limits on the Scope of Liability
There are limits on the scope of a property owner’s liability for outdoor areas. In the 2017 case of Vasilenko v. Grace Family Church, the Supreme Court of California declined to hold a Sacramento County church liable for injuries that occurred when an attendee was struck by a vehicle as he crossed a public street to get from the church’s overflow parking area to the structure. The plaintiff argued that the church should have provided a crossing guard to help attendees get through the busy intersection. However, the state’s top court found that a property owner’s duty of care is limited in scope. Given the facts presented, the church did nothing to magnify the dangers on where the injury occurred, and therefore owed no duty to protect Vasilenko from the dangers on the public street.
Defective Sidewalk Claims and the “Trivial Defect” Exoneration
Falls occurring in public spaces, especially sidewalks, are subjects to the defense that the injury was caused by the plaintiff’s own fault and that a “trivial defect” is insufficient to hold the defendant land owner liable, thereby exonerating the owner.
Underscoring the difficulty of these claims, conservative appellate courts have affirmed dismissals of lawsuits by injured plaintiffs in cases in which the height of a deformity in an otherwise level surface was 1.5 inches, .75 inches, 1.87 inches, and 1.0 inch and decreed that in those cases the defect was trivial.
In contrast to these decisions, it is settled law that a pedestrian has a right to assume that a sidewalk is in a reasonably safe condition and is not required to keep his or her eyes fixed on the ground or to be on constant lookout for defective conditions. Peters v. City and County of San Francisco (1953) 41 Cal.2d 419, 424. Nor does a momentary lack of attention to the condition of a sidewalk constitute comparative fault, as such distractions are matters of common occurrence. (City of San Diego v. Perry, 124 F.2d at p. 632, Citing Perkins v. Sunset Telephone Co. (1909) 155 Cal. 712, 722 and Barry v. Terkildsen (1887) 72 Cal. 254, 255.)
A trial court commits a “basic error” if it makes “the assumption that a pedestrian is bound to anticipate and be on guard against dangers in walking over an area designed for pedestrian use. The rule is just the contrary.” Roberts v. Patteron (1959) 170 Cal.App.2d 661, 667.)
“A pedestrian making use of city sidewalks is not bound to constitute himself an inspector of walks.” Peters v. City and County of San Francisco, 41 Cal.2d at p.428. Unless a pedestrian sees something unusual in the sidewalk ahead of her, she has the right to assume that the surface will be safe, and it would be negligent for her to walk with eyes directed towards her feet, not looking where she was going. Garber v. City of Los Angeles (1964) 226 Cal.App.2d 349, 358.
In every sidewalk defect case we focus our work to show all aggravating circumstances:
- The defect, by its nature, was especially likely to cause injury.
- The defect was not readily visible.
- Previous injuries or complaints were reported or otherwise known.
- This was an unexpected and unusual uplift on an otherwise flat and level sidewalk that created an abnormal tripping hazards in the first instance.
Businesses and insurance companies are aggressive in defending premises liability cases. If they can find a way to reduce the value of a claim or deny liability, they will do so. An experienced San Jose premises liability attorney can help you secure the evidence and information you need to prove liability and maximize your financial recovery.
Get Help From Our Silicon Valley Premises Liability Lawyers Today
Alexander Law Group, LLP attorneys are available to answer questions and share our knowledge of the law and the results of our research and experience. Our goal as personal injury lawyers is to make a difference for our clients. Every day we deal with a range of health and safety issues that most people do not encounter until after an injury occurs. As safety lawyers we are committed to providing our clients and the public with information for safer and healthier living. Call 888-777-1776 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to see how we can help you.