Dangerous Sidewalks: Washington Laws

We’ve all likely had the experience of tripping on a sidewalk. Thankfully, it’s usually only our ego that gets bruised. But sometimes, it’s much more serious than that. In this post, we’re going to look at Washington laws about dangerous sidewalks. Since we’re personal injury attorneys, we’ll also discuss how those laws could apply to you if you’ve been hurt.

As you’ll soon discover, things get complicated when it comes to sidewalk liability. Cities have responsibilities. Property owners have responsibilities. Pedestrians have responsibilities. Plus, each of these groups has rights which can impact their level of responsibility depending on the circumstances.

Given that every situation is different – please know that we’re here to talk if you’ve been injured due to an unsafe sidewalk in Washington. (If that’s you? Don’t worry about finishing this post. Just call us now at 253.272.5226.)

Relevant Washington State Laws about Dangerous Sidewalks

The table below outlines Washington State laws that deal with a dangerous or hazardous sidewalk.

RCWQuick Summary of this LawImplications
RCW 35.21.310A city or town can require a property owner to remove trees, shrubs, or other plants that overhang or obstruct a sidewalk.The city and property owner are obligated to keep sidewalks clear and safe for the public’s use.
RCW 35.68.010The State has given cities and towns the authority to maintain, construct, and replace their sidewalks. Cities can decide to share this cost with abutting property owners.Your city or town may be responsible if you are injured on a sidewalk.
RCW 35.60.020Unsafe sidewalks in front of a property may be the responsibility of the property owner to address, particularly if surrounding sidewalks are in good repair. However, if a sidewalk is damaged by a city (such as during construction), the city will cover costs of repair.A property owner could also be responsible for hazards on their property.
RCW 35.68.075When curbs are combined with sidewalks, there must be at least two ramps per block for persons with disabilities.If you are a person with a disability and are injured because ramps were not provided, you could hold the city and/or abutting property owner responsible.
RCW 46.61.250Pedestrians must use sidewalks if one is available.Since pedestrians must use available sidewalks, it’s reasonable to expect that those sidewalks should be safe to use.
RCW 46.61.710Moped use on a sidewalk is restricted.Users of sidewalks have certain responsibilities, too. If you are injured on a sidewalk while using a moped or doing something else illegal, you likely can’t blame the city.

Common Examples of Dangerous Sidewalk Issues

Think of the last time you went for a walk down a city street or your own neighborhood. Chances are, you didn’t think much about the sidewalk. Most of us hardly look down while we walk. In fact, it’s reasonable to assume the sidewalk is safe to use.

But there are many hazards that can lurk on sidewalks, such as:

  • Cracks
  • Buckling from tree roots
  • Debris
  • Uneven surfaces
  • Poor lighting
  • Lack of signage or barriers marking hazards
  • Snow and ice
  • Overgrown vegetation

In some situations, the city or property owner will warn you of these hazards. Look at the photo we used at the top of this post. You’ll see that someone has highlighted a crack in the pavement with orange spray paint. Signs, caution tape, and barriers are also common.

Who’s Responsible to Repair Sidewalks in Washington?

According to Washington State law, cities and towns have authority to install, repair, and replace sidewalks. Cities can also require property owners to construct or improve sidewalks at their expense. As mentioned already, a city could ask that a property owner address remove overgrown shrubs if they are blocking safe use of a sidewalk.

Who’s Responsible if You Fall and Get Hurt?

Not every accident means someone’s to blame. For you to hold a city or property owner liable, you would need to demonstrate that they were negligent. Without negligence, you’ve got no case. In other words, reasonable action should have been taken to repair a sidewalk or least warn you of the dangerous condition.

This isn’t as clear-cut as it seems. Also, bringing cases against government entities can be tricky as in many instances they possess a degree of immunity from tort claims. So, it’s essential to prove that a sidewalk was unusually dangerous or that the city knew of the hazard and didn’t correct it. Police reports, property reports, witness testimony, expert testimony, and medical reports can help substantiate your claims.

Even with solid evidence, we can’t overstate that premises liability claims are challenging to bring forward. There are often specific procedures and forms that must be filed properly or you risk getting your case dismissed entirely. Having an experienced premises liability lawyer can help increase your chances of success. (And of course, remove the stress of handling it all yourself.)

How the Properly Owner May Try to Blame You

There is no shortage of ways that cities or property owners will try to place the blame on you for a fall. Even if it seems obvious that they were at fault.

Here are some potential claims they could make.

  • The hazard was so “open and obvious” you should have seen it.
  • There was no hazard. (And in some cases, they are quick to make repairs to hide evidence.)
  • You can’t prove your version of what happened.
  • Your injuries were caused by another reason.
  • Others have safely used the sidewalk without falling or getting injured.
  • You weren’t paying attention.

A good personal injury attorney can help anticipate these counterattacks and build evidence that backs your story. Of course, there are times when you may be responsible (even if a little bit) for what happened. Always be forthcoming and honest when speaking to your attorney.

Need to Speak to a Lawyer?

Did you fall on a dangerous sidewalk in Washington State? If so, we encourage you to reach out to our team of personal injury lawyers. As a reminder, there’s no cost or obligation when you call us. Plus, we only charge a fee if we’re able to win your case.

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