Condominium Sidewalk Slip and Fall
The concrete joints that cut across sidewalks around neighborhoods and city streets are notorious tripping hazards. Making things even worse, over time those concrete sidewalk slabs can break and crack. You can probably think back to riding your bike down the sidewalk as a kid and feeling every bump and broken patch underneath your wheels.
A lot of sidewalks are still as bumpy and potentially dangerous as they were back then. And, not surprisingly, sidewalks are still the cause of a lot of accidents involving trips and falls.
The sidewalk that wraps around your condominium is no different. If you’ve ever tripped while taking the dog for a walk or going for a jog, it’s likely due to one of these common sidewalk hazards.
- Cracks in the concrete slabs and joints
- Uneven concrete slabs
- Slippery surfaces from oil or liquids
- Puddles of water
- Debris in the footpath
- Curbs without adequate warnings, like paint or markers
If you slip or trip and fall and become the victim of a condo sidewalk accident, you may be able to receive damages from the condo association or homeowner’s association (HOA) if you can prove it was negligent in its care and maintenance of the sidewalk. Doing so, however, isn’t always easy. Here’s how to prove negligence in a slip and fall on condo property and win your case.
Is the Sidewalk Owned by the Condo?
Before pointing the finger at the condo association or HOA, you’ll need to determine who owns the damaged sidewalk. If the sidewalk is on public ground, it’s public property and, therefore, not the condo association’s responsibility to maintain.
If the sidewalk is on public land and you decide to file a case against the municipality that oversees ownership, go into it knowing that there is a limited amount of money you’ll be able to recover if you win your case. This amount is limited by law. The process itself is also difficult and, unless you meet very strict deadlines and provide a pre-suit notice, you may not even be eligible to file a lawsuit against the municipality.
If the sidewalk sits on private property owned by the condominium association or HOA, you can file a negligence claim against the association under Florida’s premises liability law. Unlike lawsuits involving public-owned property, the amount of damages you can recover from the condo association is not limited by law.
Proving Negligence in Florida
To prove that the association failed in its duty of care, you’ll have to prove it had one of two types of knowledge about the condition of the condo sidewalk:
- Actual Knowledge – they knew the state of the condominium sidewalk presented a dangerous condition that caused the accident.
- Constructive Knowledge – they should have known about the dangerous condition the sidewalk presented.
Cases of condo sidewalk accidents causing a trip and fall can get much more complex, however, especially if the crack in the sidewalk is considered ‘open and obvious.’
An open and obvious crack is typically viewed as damage to the sidewalk that’s so obvious that anyone using that sidewalk would clearly see the hazard. Therefore, if the hazard can be clearly and obviously detected, the condo association is not required to warn invitees about it in order to uphold its duty of care.
If the sidewalk crack that caused the injury is considered open and obvious, then the condo association can state it had actual knowledge of the hazard but argue it did not violate its duty of care because the hazard was obvious.
Navigating Through the Gray Area Between Duty of Care and Open and Obvious Hazards
The case of Middleton v. Don Asher & Associates 262 So. 3d 870 (Fla. 2019) involved a condominium resident who tripped over a crack in the condo’s sidewalk outside of her residence. She argued that the condo association failed in its duty of care to keep the sidewalk safe and should be liable.
The property management company, Don Asher & Associates, Inc., and the condo association, Lemon Tree Condominium Association, Inc., (collectively known as Appellees), claimed the condition of the sidewalk was open and obvious and, therefore, not dangerous. They argued that the resident should have known the uneven sidewalk was a hazard and they had no duty to warn her about its condition.
The way the court ruled, in this case, came down to its view on the duty the Appellees owned to all of its invitees. It held that Appellees owed a duty of care to their residents in two ways:
- To use ordinary care in keeping the premises in a reasonably safe condition.
- To give timely warning of latent or concealed perils which are known or should be known by the owner or occupant.
The court agreed with Appellees that the damaged sidewalk was open and obvious and that, as a result, they were not required to warn the victim of the hazard.
However, the court also ruled that the companies violated their collective duty to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition by repairing conditions that they could foresee would cause harm. Because it was clear that Appellees knew of the condition of the sidewalk on their property for approximately 18 months and still chose not to take any action to make repairs, they were found liable.
It’s important to note, too, that the court questioned whether the victim was comparatively negligent since she was familiar with the sidewalk’s condition. Further proof that cases of negligence are rarely black and white.
What Steps Should the Condominium Take to Protect You from a Sidewalk Slip or Trip and Fall Accident?
The condominium owners can help prevent many sidewalk slips, trips, and fall injuries by performing sidewalk maintenance on a regular basis. A few simple maintenance steps could include:
- Routine Checks for Cracks and Other Damage
- Keep an Inspection Log to Document Inspections and the Condition of the Sidewalk
- Regularly Remove Debris Like Stones, Rocks, or Liter
- Tend to Any Repairs Within a Reasonable Amount of Time After They’re Noticed
- When Damages Occur, Put Signage or Some Other Warning Signal in Place to Warn Unit Owners and Guests.
What Should You Do?
Many victims of condo sidewalk slip or trip and fall accidents are hesitant to file a lawsuit against the condominium for fear of appearing opportunistic. It’s important to realize, though, that victims have a right to receive damages for the expenses, lost wages, and other emotional stresses they suffered as a result of the accident.
If you believe you have enough evidence to prove that the condo association or HOA was negligent and responsible for your injury, you can file a personal injury lawsuit and hold the condo owners accountable.
When you’re ready to file, work with an experienced personal injury lawyer with knowledge of Florida premises liability law and condo accident claims in Florida. Your lawyer can help prove negligence by demonstrating to the court that the condo association failed in its duty of care, and help you get the compensation you deserve.
Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in-person) to answer your questions. When you’re ready to speak with a personal injury lawyer about your case, give Alan a call at 945-458-8655.