Suing a City Government After a Sidewalk Slip and Fall Accident

There’s an idiom that evokes the sense of frustration often felt when dealing with people in power in local government: “You can’t fight city hall.” But for the city of San Diego, reeling from a bombardment of lawsuits over sidewalk slip and fall accidents, this bit of wisdom has been proven wrong in very expensive ways.

San Diego has been the target of a number of pricey—and successful—slip and fall cases. And that doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon. In June 2018, the city agreed to pay a $1.7 million settlement to the victim of a devastating accident. Three years ago, Regina Capobianco and her husband, Christopher, were riding Segways on a residential street in La Jolla, when uneven terrain lead to an accident that shattered her pelvis.

The reality is that it is very much possible to fight city hall over a sidewalk slip and fall injury. You can even win significant damages for negligence and personal injury cases against a local government entity. The law is there to protect the average citizen from negligent action by individuals, corporations, and government institutions that could lead to accident or injury.

However, government entities do have significant resources to leverage against you, even before a court date is set.

San Diego’s own laws shifted responsibility for infrastructure onto the city in 1975, but most major cities in California do not have similar laws.

California law has long treated sidewalks as “public works of improvement.” However, most major cities in California have local laws and municipal codes that specify who actually “owns” sidewalks. Additionally, there is a rise in efforts by city governments to limit their responsibility for slip and fall accidents resulting from damaged sidewalks, efforts that are likely to intensify in the wake of San Diego’s legal woes.

One example of this is chapter 11.60 of San Rafael’s Municipal Code. Enacted in April 2018, the new code firmly places responsibility of the maintenance of sidewalks on the shoulders of adjacent property owners. It joins many cities in California, including Sacramento and San Jose, in passing similar regulations.

The move has drawn heavy criticism, in no small part due to the financial burden it places on property and business owners near heavily damaged sidewalks. Not only are they responsible for ensuring the sidewalks are in safe condition, they can be held liable for any sidewalk slip and fall injuries that occur.

Similar interpretations of premises liability are common throughout the United States. In Orlando, Florida, premises liability extends even to trespassers onto a property. Conceivably, a trespasser could attempt to hold a property owner responsible for injuries that happen on adjacent sidewalks.

In 1975, a local ordinance shifted responsibility for sidewalk repairs to the city. But, passing a municipal code in San Diego similar to those of other cities could allow the city to absolve itself of liability for sidewalk slip-and-fall injuries. San Diego officials are divided on whether or not to follow the lead of other cities, but there is widespread agreement that the existing situation is not acceptable.


Even if a city can be held liable for a sidewalk slip and fall accident, there are several factors that could stand between you and winning any compensation.

Being injured in a sidewalk slip and fall is not enough to recover damages from any property owner. You must show:

The defendant owns or controls the property.

Cities like Sacramento and Roseville place responsibility on the property owners. However, there are circumstances where the city can be held liable, even if the sidewalk is adjacent to residential properties. For example, in Roseville, when an official city street tree  damages a sidewalk, it is the city’s responsibility to address the hazard.

The defendant has shown negligence in the use and maintenance of the property.

San Diego’s current legal battles stem from years of overdue repairs. If the sidewalk in your city has been damaged for years, a court could find that negligence played a role as to why repairs were not in place before your accident.

The negligence of the defendant was a substantial contributing factor in the accident.

Was the city aware of the problem? Were repairs scheduled, but delayed for some reason? Did the city plant unsuitable trees that ultimately damaged the sidewalk? How questions like these are answered can determine liability.

If you’ve recently suffered a serious fall in California, the statute of limitations gives you six months to file claims against a government agency. This is significantly less time than the two years you have to file personal injury claims against a business or individual. However, it is long enough for your memory of the accident to fade, a fact that experienced defense attorneys for the city will exploit to defend against your claims. The short time limit means it is critical to act quickly to file your claim.

If you are injured on a city sidewalk, it’s strongly recommended you consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

Even before you consult with an attorney, there are some things you can do that can help them bring your case to a successful conclusion.

  • Preserve the shoes you wore during the slip and fall – Our attorneys, as well as those representing the city, will work with outside experts during your case. Your shoes will be scrutinized if your fall happened while you were walking or running. Don’t wear those shoes again; store them somewhere where they can remain as is for experts to look at.
  • As with shoes, preserve any other equipment that is related to the accident – San Diego’s numerous slip and fall lawsuits have involved Segways and bicycles. Like a pair of shoes, outside experts will focus on these external factors, and they could determine the success of your case.
  • Try to get, or stay, in contact with any witnesses to your sidewalk slip and fall – Whether it’s family, friends, an unrelated bystander, or even the property owner themselves, their testimony is critical for your case.
  • Get photos of the accident site as soon as possible – After your accident, the sidewalk you tripped on may get repaired in the time before your case goes to trial. Any delay on your part could make it more difficult to investigate the conditions leading to your injuries. Take photos of the accident site, using a ruler to measure defects in the sidewalk. Keeping a record of the conditions that caused your accident will only help your lawsuit.
  • Maintain your medical and financial records – The severity of your fall will determine the damages you can claim. Keep copies of any bills from your doctors, your insurance company, and any banking statements. Your injuries could cost you time, money, and even gainful employment, and you are entitled to fair compensation.

If you’ve recently suffered a sidewalk slip and fall accident, don’t hesitate to contact Penney and Associates right away. With a free personal injury consultation, we’ll help establish if you have a case, and start the process of getting all your information organized.

Whether you’re up against a residential property owner, or must take the fight to city hall itself, our lawyers have the experience needed to win you the settlement you deserve. Reach out to us through our website, or call our offices at 1 (800) 616-4529.

This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic.

* This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

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