Uneven Pavement and Settling Sidewalks Can Cause Slip and Falls in Indiana
Uneven pavement trip and falls are perhaps the most common type of injury case we handle here at Shaw Law Offices.
This is due to the natural settling of pavement and sidewalks in front of businesses, stores and other properties.
People who are injured by tripping over uneven pavement often fall forward (rather than backwards as slip and falls on ice).
This causes a very common type of injury -- often a broken wrist, a torn rotator cuff injury or a broken arm due to outstretched arms trying to break the fall. Sometimes, a person might hit his head and suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or bleeding on the brain.
Obviously, it is very important that businesses check and inspect their property for dangerous conditions such as uneven pavement.
But, how how high must uneven pavement be before it is actionable when a person is injured?
The answer depends upon whether the unevenness is considered unreasonably dangerous. Sometimes, pavement can become uneven over a long period of time, but still remain inconspicuous to pedestrians and landowners alike.
While the law requires landowners to exercise reasonable care for the safety of all invitees (customers and social guests) on its property, the question still remains whether the landowner was "negligent" under the circumstances. This question depends upon a variety of factors: did the landowner provide warning signs for pedestrians of the uneven pavement? Did the pedestrian know the pavement was uneven at that spot and appreciate the danger?
Many cities, such as Fort Wayne, Indiana, have ordinances that require homeowners and businesses to keep sidewalks in good repair for those using the sidewalk. In fact, it has been found that a 1/2-inch rise in pavement was enough to hold a landowner responsible for injuries caused to an unsuspecting person.
There are written standards for safe walkway surfaces of all kinds -- including sidewalks -- which require prominent warnings or visual cues to alert pedestrians to the location of small changes in elevation of sidewalks. One way to provide a warning is seen everyday -- a change in color to alert the pedestrian (such as yellow paint on curbs). This helps because most pedestrians look ahead and not down at their feet when walking.
The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM International) is a group that started in 1898 designed to help make the world more safe by combining a variety of professions such as engineers, architects and other safety professionals by enacting standards for safe living, including walkways. These guidelines perform a function -- helping businesses and landowners see what is required to keep a property safe and "up to code." A landowner who violates the guidelines might be found to be negligent in a court of law for not following safety rules -- even if the landowner is unaware the ASTM rules exist. (See ASTM 1637 for the guideline on safe walkways).
If an uneven pavement situation was unreasonably dangerous, such that an employee or other reasonable person would have noticed that it was dangerous and warned pedestrians of fixed the problem, but the owner of the property in question failed to do so, this evidence of a failure to warn or failure to inspect might be used in a premises liability lawsuit. Premises owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect Indiana customers from foreseeable dangers on their premises.
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