Notice Requirements For Defective City Sidewalks Require Quick Action



In premises liability cases, the location of the plaintiff’s fall can drastically change the requirements that must be satisfied in order to bring a claim for damages. Take for example a fall as a result of a defective sidewalk. If the injury occurred on private property, the plaintiff generally has three years from the date of the accident to bring a negligence claim. If, however, the injury occurred on a public sidewalk, the injured party must provide notice to the proper governmental agency within 120 days of the accident, or risk having their case dismissed. MCL 691.1404.

This is a strict rule and requires that individuals injured as a result of a defective sidewalk consult with an attorney as soon as possible. While Michigan law makes governmental agencies immune from tort liability if the agency “is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function” MCL 691.1407(1), an exception is carved out for the maintenance of public highways.  MCL 691.1402. Included in the definition of highway, is a “sidewalk, trailway, crosswalk, or culvert.” MCL 691.1401(c).

Pursuant to MCL 691.1402a(1), cities, villages, and townships are charged with the duty of maintaining sidewalks in a reasonable state of repair. However, Michigan law does not extend this duty to state and county road commissions (MCL 691.1402) meaning that a pedestrian injured as a result of a defect sidewalk, can only seek compensation from their local municipality.

While Michigan law does make cities, villages and township liable for injuries as a result of a defective sidewalk, there are strict notice requirements that a plaintiff must satisfy when bringing a claim or risk having their case dismissed. These requirements are: (1) Notice of the defect prior to the incident, and (2) Notice of the injury within 120 days after the incident.

Notice of the Defect

Under MCL 691.1403, liability for a defective sidewalk is not imposed unless the governmental agency had knowledge of the defect, and was given a reasonable amount of time to repair it.  The plaintiff must show that the governmental agency knew, or should have known about the defect before the incident occurred, and had time to fix it.

The plaintiff can satisfy the knowledge requirement in a number of ways. First, the plaintiff can show that the city, village or township had actual knowledge of the defect. For example, if complaints about the defect were made on prior occasions, and the city failed to take corrective action, the knowledge requirement would be satisfied.

Furthermore, the law creates a conclusive presumption that the municipality had knowledge of the defect if the defect existed for at least 30 days prior to the incident causing plaintiff’s injuries. Lastly, the plaintiff can satisfy the notice requirement if he or she can present evidence that the municipality should have discovered and repaired the defect in the exercise of reasonable diligence. MCL 691.1402a(2).

Notice of the Injury

Michigan law requires not only that the governmental agency have notice of the defect prior to the injury, but also that the injured party provide written notice of his or her injuries within 120 after the accident. MCL 691.1404. The written notice must specify the exact location and nature of the defect, the injuries sustained, and any known witnesses. MCL 691.1404(1). The failure to give notice within 120 days, or notice that does not provide the required information, is cause for a dismissal of the case. The law does allow the plaintiff to cure deficiencies in the notice within the initial 120 days. 

What Does this Mean for Plaintiffs?

This means that persons injured as a result of a defective sidewalk on public property should contact an attorney as soon as possible after the fall in order allow sufficient time to properly investigate whether the municipality had notice of the defect and to provide the municipality notice of your injuries within the 120 day requirement. 

If you or your loved one was injured as a result of a defect sidewalk, contact the Metro Detroit Injury Lawyers today for a free consultation and evaluation of your case.