A bicyclist who suffered a fall and injury from her bicycle due to an allegedly defective university sidewalk sued the city for failure to maintain its roads. In later proceedings, the city sought to bring in the state as a third-party defendant to share the liability.
In Madden v. City of Iowa City, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the state’s motion to dismiss the cross-claim, finding a city ordinance could establish duty on the part of the state, and the claim of contribution of liability was not excluded under the state’s tort claims act.
Tuscaloosa bicycle accident attorneys recognize the relevance of this case to those who typically commute on bicycles at The University of Alabama. Previous case law in Alabama supports the idea that municipalities and state governments can be held accountable for injuries sustained by negligent maintenance of public roadways.
In personal injury cases, it’s critical to understand the full scope of potential liability. While this was an Iowa case, the state supreme court cited several out-of-jurisdiction decisions in reaching its conclusion.
According to the complaint, a woman was riding her bicycle on a sidewalk that abutted the grounds of a state-funded university. She lost control of the bicycle, crashed to the ground and sustained injuries.
She filed a lawsuit against the city asserting the city had control over the sidewalk, which contained a defect that caused the crash. She alleged the city was negligent in failing to prevent or fix the defect and also in failing to warn of the defect and otherwise not using reasonable care in the maintenance of the sidewalk.
The city moved to bring the state in as a third-party defendant, based on the fact that the school was publicly-funded, and an ordinance in city code required abutting property owners to maintain sidewalks in safe condition. This statute was backed by a state law that allows such ordinances, requiring property owners to maintain property outside the property line and inside the curb line.
In affirming the trial court’s decision to allow the city to be joined as a third-party defendant, the state supreme court cited Del Rio v. City of Hialeah, a 2005 Florida case which found the owner of abutting property, when contributing to or causing the dangerous condition on the sidewalk that is the proximate cause of a pedestrian injury, can be held liable. Liability may also be imposed when the sidewalk was constructed in such a way as to benefit the abutting land owner (citing the 1999 decision of Peretich v. City of New York).
Additionally, the court found the ordinance was sufficient grounds on which to establish the state’s liability.
Here in Alabama, in the 1975 case of City of Birmingham v. Brasher,the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s decision awarding damages to a pedestrian who was injured while walking along a sidewalk in a public park. She alleged negligent maintenance that resulted in her falling when she stubbed her foot on a raised portion of the concrete walkway. These conditions had existed for a long period of time, and had been the source of previous complaints from others who had stumbled and fallen. Evidence was presented that the city’s legal and engineering departments had been made aware of the defect, yet took no steps to improve or repair it.
Although that case did not deal with a third-party defendant issue, as in the Madden case, it underscores the fact that pedestrians and bicyclists do have remedies when injuries are caused by defective roadways and walkways.
Madden v. City of Iowa City, June 13, 2014, Iowa Supreme Court
Report: Southern Pedestrians at High Risk – Birmingham Ranks 6th, June 8, 2014, Tuscaloosa Personal Injury Lawyer Blog