June 21, 2013

Maintain Your Common Areas - Or Else

Cities have a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to keep sidewalks in reasonably safe condition.  Cities must have actual or constructive notice of an unsafe sidewalk condition and a reasonable opportunity to correct it before they can be found liable for accidents related to that condition.  The notice issue usually requires a trial to resolve.    
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s ruling that the City of Seattle was not liable after a man tripped and fell over a part of the sidewalk that was lifted almost an inch.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the injured man must be given an opportunity to prove that a dangerous condition existed for a sufficient period of time that the City must have known of its existence if it was exercising ordinary care and diligence.  The Court of Appeals concluded that a trial was necessary because reasonable minds could differ in determining whether the City’s maintenance policy was reasonable under the circumstances.

Condominium and homeowners associations also have liability exposure if they fail to properly maintain and repair their common areas.  Associations can avoid liability by inspecting their common areas regularly and by addressing dangerous conditions promptly.  Boards should consider developing comprehensive policies to keep common areas safe in consultation with their associations’ attorneys, property managers, and insurance agents.