09202017Headline:

Vancouver, Washington

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Don Jacobs
Don Jacobs
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Fall on sidewalk

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Most cities have regulations requiring an adjacent property owner keep the sidewalk in front of his place of business in a safe condition. That means if the pavement buckles and cracks because of a nearby tree root, the owner has an obligation to get it fixed. Many cities send out notices to property owners letting them know a trip hazard exists. The notice usually comes with a warning to fix the hazard by a certain time or the city will do so at their expense. I recently represented a nice elderly women who was shopping in the downtown area. She parked her car and started down the sidewalk. Unknown to her, just ahead on the sidewalk a lip of concrete jutted up almost two inches above the rest of the sidewalk. The hazard had clearly been there for a long time. It was also right in front of the adjacent business owner’s front door. It would have been impossible for the owner to miss it, especially if he came and went through that door more than once a day. But this nice lady was new to the area. She was looking at the display windows decorated by the owner to entice people into the store. She was not looking at the ground in front of her, assuming there was level sidewalk there. The lip caught her right foot and she fell. Both of her shoulders were fractured. She incurred thousands of dollars in medical bills, some covered by her insurance, some not. She suffered through a very painful recovery. Months later, when she asked the business owner if he had any insurance she could use to pay part of her bills, she was ignored. When she had no choice she hired an attorney. When my office contated the owner, all of a sudden an insurance company gave us a call. They immediately demanded she surrender all of her medical records for the previous tenyears. They also demanded she submit to questioning under oath by an adjustor. They were accusatory and belittling, implying she was probably intoxicated, suffered dizzy spells because of her age or was wearing high heels. None of these were true. The case eventually settled for a fair amount. The next time I walked by the location, the sidewalk was fixed. The owner probably claiming he had to fix it to avoid the "frivolous lawsuits". Something he should have done as a responsible business owner long ago. Too bad it took someone getting injured for him to act. So his insurance probably went up. He’ll claim that too was caused by the "frivolous lawsuits". Instead of taking responsibility for his own obligations, he’ll blame the victim. What is unfortunate is the responsible business owners, the ones who didn’t wait until there was a claim to fix their sidewalk, will probably notice an increase too. And they’ll think it was due to "frivolous lawsuits" as well, instead of the real culprit, the irresponsible business owner next door.