If you trip and fall on a sidewalk in New York City, there are certain things you must do in order to maximize your chances of obtaining satisfactory compensation for any personal injuries suffered as a result. So here’s a checklist of action items that will help you – and your personal injury attorney – on your quest for just compensation.
New York City Sidewalks – Who’s Responsible for Keeping Them Defect-Free?
New York City has over 12,000 miles of sidewalks – enough to reach from Times Square to Moscow and back if they were laid end-to-end. Unfortunately, like all human-made things, sidewalks are subject to wear and tear from the people who walk on them every day, as well as being subject to damage due to the expansion of underlying tree roots or erosion of the materials lying beneath them that can force sidewalk flagstones out of alignment enough to cause you to trip and fall. After a significant weather event, such as a snowstorm or heavy rain, sidewalks may accumulate matter which, unless promptly cleared, can create hazardous conditions for anyone attempting to walk upon them.
In New York City, it’s not always immediately clear who exactly is responsible for keeping sidewalks in good repair. Currently, the City of New York is responsible for properly maintaining sidewalks which:
- Abut its own properties
- Abut private, properties of 1-, 2-, and 3-family houses, that are in whole or in part owner occupied and used exclusively for residential purposes.
The City is not, however, responsible for maintaining sidewalks bordering other private properties (for example, apartment or office buildings) – these must be maintained by the property owner and he/she is responsible for any defects in them. So, one of the first questions that a personal injury attorney working on your behalf will ask you to do is identify the exact location of your sidewalk trip and fall; this is very important to know, because it directly affects who you are able to potentially sue in court.
Completely Document Your Experience
It’s very important to document the circumstances of your personal injury in a timely and accurate manner. If you don’t do this, it will be much more difficult to convince a judge or a jury that your personal injury was caused by a defective sidewalk condition. Here are some particularly valuable forms of information that you should work to acquire after your accident.
- Take photographs. At the time of your accident or shortly thereafter, take photographs of the sidewalk upon which you fell. Try to take photos from a number of different angles that document the defect that led to your fall, as well as the condition of the surrounding sidewalk
- Identify witnesses. If there were people who saw you trip and fall on the sidewalk, get their contact information and inquire about whether they might be willing to testify on your behalf in court.
- Identify possible surveillance camera evidence. It’s possible that your trip and fall was documented on a surveillance camera, so attempt to identify any in the area that might have been operating during your accident. (To obtain this evidence, your personal injury attorney will likely have to help you by sending an official request for evidence preservation to the camera operator).
- Take note of possible police/EMS records. If first-responders were called to the scene, they will have created records memorializing details about your fall. Document which precinct/firehouse/other entity they came from; your attorney will likely want to examine these records in the future.
- Medical records. If you require hospitalization or medical treatment, any medical records associated with treating your injuries will be useful when it comes time to go to court.
After any personal injury, the most important thing is for you to receive the medical attention you need to recover. But it’s also important not to delay your efforts to receive compensation for your injuries. In New York State, the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits is three years, so you’ll have a bit of time if you happened to trip and fall on a sidewalk over which the City of New York has no duty to properly maintain. However, if you fell on a sidewalk for which the City is responsible, you’ll only have 90 days from the date of the accident to file the required preliminary Notice of Claim and then 1 year and 90 days from the date of accident to file your action. Again, an experienced, New York City-based personal injury attorney will be in the best position to advise you of your options and discuss your best course of action.