Is a City Liable for Defects in City-Owned Sidewalks?

Whether a City can be held liable for defects in a city-owned sidewalk depends on a number of factors.  It is very important that you consult a slip and fall lawyer to learn about your rights. Under Texas Law, Governmental entitles enjoy immunity from being sued.  However,  this immunity is waived for certain instances by the Texas Torts Claims Act.    Under the Texas Torts Claims Act, A municipality can be held liable for two types of defects in sidewalks: “special defects” and “premise defects.” Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 102.022.  The distinction between the two is very important because it determines the duty owed by the City.

Special Defect vs Premises Defect

Cracked sidewalk hazard

Example of a premise defect.

A Special defect is a condition that  presents an unexpected and unusual danger to ordinary users, while a premises defect is a long-standing, routine or permanent defect. If the defect is a special defect, you must only prove that the City knew or should have known of the hazard. If the defect is merely a premise defect, you must prove actual knowledge on the part of the City and the absence of knowledge on the part of the injured, unless the injured party paid for the use of the premises.  Further, if the defect is a design defect, that is something dangerous about the way the sidewalk was designed vs a change that occurred later–the act is a discretionary act left to the City and there is no waiver of immunity. See City of Austin v. Sliverman, M.D., 2009 WL 1423956 (Tex.App.–Austin).

Examples of Special Defects and Premises Defects

Some examples of premises defects are as follows: “a crushed and crumpled sidewalk” City of Grapevine v. Roberts, 946 S.W.2d 841 (Tex.1997); a eroded spot in the sidewalk City of El Paso v. Bernal 986 S.W.2d 610 (Tex.1999); sidewalk separation City of Richardson v. Justus, 329 S.W.3d 662 (Tex.App.–Dallas, 2010).

Some examples of special defects are: uncovered meter box City of Austin v. Rangel 184 S.W. 3d 377 (Tex. App. – Austin 2006, no pet.); hole in sidewalk left behind from utility pole City of El Paso v. Chacon 148 S.W.3d 417, 425 (Tex.App.—El Paso 2004, pet. denied).

Notice Requirements

The notice period for tort claims for State government entities is 180 days. However, many cities reduce the notice period by code. The City of Houston notice period for tort claims is 90 days and has specific requirements.  Failure to comply with the notice requirements to bring a claim, may result in the waiver of your right to bring a claim at all. Thus, it is critical that you get an attorney involved and/or determine what the notice requirements are of the particular government entity involved in your case.

Call A Premise Liability Attorney

If you have been injured  due to a slip and fall or trip and fall caused by the defective condition of a sidewalk or other premises defect, you should speak to a premises defect attorney immediately.  You have only a very limited time in which to provide written notice to the proper municipal agents before your claim is forever barred.

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Paul Cannon

Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.