Government Liability For Hazardous Streets or Sidewalks

There’s about a month left in winter, but it’s still too early to put away the snow shovels. That goes for the government too, and not just in connection with ice or snow. Cities, towns, and counties throughout Indiana have a legal duty under the law to keep their streets and sidewalks in a reasonably safe condition all year round. If not, they could be responsible for personal injuries suffered by citizens on those streets or sidewalks. (A separate federal law, the Federal Tort Claims Act, typically applies to personal injuries on property owned by the federal government.) 

Back in 2002, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Indiana government on the state, county, or local level (i.e., a governmental “entity” or unit) has a common law duty to exercise reasonable care and diligence to keep their streets and sidewalks in a reasonably safe condition for travel. 

To make matters more complicated, a governmental entity is not liable for temporary, weather-related conditions that results in injuries under Indiana law. In fact, the Indiana Supreme Court recently ruled that this form of legal immunity for the temporary weather conditions lasts until the weather condition has stabilized or stopped worsening and the government has had a reasonable opportunity to respond.

 One practical tip in the event of a winter accident: Any Hoosier who gets hurt in a slip-and fall because of icy or snowy conditions should try to take photos of the accident scene promptly. Snow has a habit of melting, even in Indiana! 

A governmental unit must have notice of unsafe conditions before it is considered legally liable, but that knowledge can be in the form of actual knowledge or “constructive” knowledge. Actual knowledge means that the state or local government entity knows about a problem on the road or sidewalk but failed to make repairs. Constructive knowledge in general means that the government should have known about the problem if it was paying attention. As a matter of law, the governmental body will be considered to have constructive knowledge of the problem if it existed long enough that had it exercised reasonable care under the circumstances, it would or should have known/discovered the unsafe defect. 

Bringing a claim, let alone proving one, against the state or federal government for personal injuries can sometimes be more challenging than a personal injury case against a private company or private citizen, so it is important to retain expert legal counsel right away. At Young and Young, we have over 55 years of experiences helping people recover the proper compensation for their injuries.  Please give us a call to set up a free consultation.

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