Falling on the sidewalk: Who is responsible?

A question that comes up fairly often is, in Portland, who, is responsible for a person’s injuries if he or she falls on a poorly constructed, reconstructed, maintained or repaired sidewalk?

http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=28857 is where you will find Chapter 17.28 of the Municipal Code for Portland.

First, the area to be considered a sidewalk has to be intended for the use of pedestrians. An owner is the person or entity who is of record in the county assessor.

Then it is the owner who is responsible for the sidewalks and the city for the curbs unless they have been willfully damaged. The owner is also responsible to the city
“by reason of all claims, judgment or settlement, and for all reasonable costs of defense, including investigation costs and attorney fees, by reason of the property owners’ failure to satisfy the obligations imposed by the Charter and Code of the City of Portland to maintain, construct, and repair the sidewalks, curbs, driveways and/or parking strips.

Likewise the property owner is responsible for snow and ice on sidewalks and has the same obligation to indemnify the city if it has had to step in in the first instance to pay the damages of by the failure to remove accumulations.

Finally, if the city has issued a notice to repair a sidewalk or curb or both, and it has not been done within 20 days, the city can make the repairs and the cost will be assessed to the owner, agent or occupant of the property.

In dealing with any of these questions, it is important to look carefully at the person or entity to which the duty applies. For example, an occupant is not an owner and therefore, barring any other facts, would not be responsible, for example, for repairing a sidewalk. On the other hand, an occupant might be in a landlord-tenant relationship and as part of the lease be responsible for this condition. This would mean that the city would first look to the owner who would then look to the occupant to pay the tab. The city code for Portland would not necessarily be the same as the one for other cities. There is further applicable law than just the city code on the various classes of people to whom a duty would be owed. For example, whether the person was a trespasser or whether the person was invited on the property to do business.

Probably the most important point for someone who might be made liable, would be to take the initiative to keep their property safe and keep appropriate insurance for this kind of risk.

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