Tough Economic Times Could Make City Sidewalks More Dangerous, Warns New York Personal Injury Lawyer

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Budget cuts combined with changing liability laws could make life for pedestrians more dangerous, according to noted New York personal injury attorney Joseph Sullivan

the jury is instructed by the judge to compensate the individual commensurate with the damage the landowner caused and to reduce those damages to the extent it finds the individual contributed to causing the accident.

Severely sprained ankles, broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions, brain and other internal injuries, chronic pain and suffering, hospitalization, loss of work, even loss of life -- these are just some of the serious consequences of slip, trip and fall accidents, a chronic and often trivialized problem that could get even worse if the Department of Transportation is forced to make cuts in the number of workers and repair crews assigned to fix defects in city sidewalks, according to Joseph Sullivan, a New York personal injury lawyer.

"Fall down accidents," Sullivan said, "often result in very serious, debilitating injuries and end up costing accident victims far more in terms of pain and suffering than the amount of money awarded to them by the courts."

According to a recent report, the most frequent types of slip, trip and fall accidents include broken wrists, and foot and ankle injuries known as Avulsion fractures, a medical term used to describe a debilitating injury where pieces of bone are ripped free by stronger ligaments that become stretched.

"The elderly are particularly vulnerable to hip fractures, and often die as a result of their injuries," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the law imposes a duty on landowners to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition.

"Taking a broader view," he emphasized, "personal injury cases as a whole serve a very important function that benefits every member of society.

New York City, as well as every other city in the United States, is a much safer place because the law grants an individual the right to retain a lawyer and file a personal injury lawsuit if they are injured due to the negligence of a landowner.

"The existence of this right," he added, "provides a financial incentive to municipalities and landowners to allocate funds toward maintaining their sidewalks, streets and highways."

He said that in difficult economic times it might be tempting to cut back on such expenditures.

"The result is a more dangerous city," he said, "and more injuries to its residents and visitors."

In the event of an accident, he advises victims to take pictures of the sidewalk defect, or have someone do it for them as soon as possible before the defect can be repaired, which is particularly true in hazardous, but transitory situations, like when the sidewalk is covered with ice and snow.

Sullivan said that over time, laws in New York State have changed, sometimes to the detriment of city dwellers.

"Like private landowners," Sullivan said, "in order for the City to be held responsible for a fall down accident, the victim must prove the sidewalk had a defect that caused them to fall.

"But unlike private landowners," he continued, "in order for the city to be held responsible for the injuries caused by a defective condition on its sidewalk and streets, the individual must prove that the city either created the condition, or had written notice of the defect at least 15 days prior to the accident."

This regulation, enacted by the City of New York in 1979, was widely publicized and has come to be known, euphemistically, as the Pothole Law.

According to Sullivan, prior to the adoption of The Pothole Law all a victim's accident lawyer had to do was find a witness, or an expert who could tell how long the defect had been there and that it should have been fixed. The Pothole Law changed all of that for cases against New York City.

In a recent audit done by the City Comptroller's Office, The New York City Department of Transportation was found to have failed to inspect one out of every five complaints of sidewalk defects. Violations remained unfixed for an average of four years. Yet despite these grim statistics, slip, trip and fall lawsuits against the city have plummeted since 2003, when a law shifted the responsibility for faulty sidewalks to commercial property owners and owners of multiple unit dwellings -- absolving the city of many claims.

"In many instances, the city has placed the onus of failure to maintain sidewalks on the property managers and landlords," Sullivan said.

When landlords act reasonably, Sullivan explained, they are protected by the jury system - a system that requires five out of six fellow citizens to agree that the landowner did not act reasonably before the court requires the landowner to compensate the injured individual.

"Moreover," he said, "the jury is instructed by the judge to compensate the individual commensurate with the damage the landowner caused and to reduce those damages to the extent it finds the individual contributed to causing the accident."

He added that the system provides a further check on excessive jury verdicts by giving the defendant the right to have the amount of the award reviewed by an appellate court. If the damages are excessive, three judges will review the award and reduce it to what they feel is fair and just compensation based upon the accumulation of past cases.

"It is always advisable," he stressed, "to hire a personal injury lawyer to notify the landowner promptly after the accident occurs to make sure that the landowner has put it's insurance company on notice. Otherwise, the insurance company may deny coverage."

He said that a private landowner may be sued up to three years after the accident occurred. Whereas, an individual has only 1 year and 90 days to sue the city.

Sullivan advises New Yorkers who see a potential sidewalk hazard to call 311 to report the defect to the city. And, to be on the safe side, he advises pedestrians to write a letter to the city, since calls to 311 may not satisfy the requirement that the city be given written notice.

After tending to their injuries, Sullivan recommends that victims of a slip, trip and fall accidents hire an accident lawyer to determine: who is responsible for the maintenance of the location of the accident; whether there are any filing deadlines; who owns the property; if pictures have been taken of the defect and, if not, have some taken; if the owner has insurance and who the carrier is; to place the carrier on notice of the accident to ensure insurance coverage; and, to determine any filing deadlines and prepare appropriate documents.

"The simple fact is," he concluded, "slip trip and fall accidents are not a boon to greedy trial lawyers, but are often challenging cases that require an experienced, skilled trial attorney to obtain modest compensation for injured individuals."


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