I’m worried about you, my fellow metro Denverites. I’m afraid you may be slipping, just like me. It’s the times in which we live.
One snowstorm after another. Relentless shoveling. And what’s the point? It’s just going to snow more.
That is the point! If homeowners dilly-dally and don’t get that first snow cleared from our shared sidewalks, we’ve all got problems. February ice beneath snow is not good. Not for the dallier (hello backache), and certainly not for the unsuspecting pedestrian.
As Presidents Day approached, I observed sidewalks on my daily commute north on Lincoln and returning south on Washington.
These public pedestrian pathways parallel miles of Denver houses, apartments and businesses between I-25 and downtown. I’d guestimate 75% of those sidewalks were cleaned well by homeowners and property managers. That’s not good enough!
Sidewalks not shoveled are awful for pedestrians, including students walking to school. And what about parents with strollers? How about the disabled with wheelchairs and walkers? Harvey Weinstein excluded.
Sidewalks go back over 4,000 years. A lot less in Colorado. Here, local governments own our sidewalks. Most municipalities demand, under threat of fine, that owners of adjacent properties safeguard their section of sidewalk.
Colorado Springs goes further. Derelict owners pay a fine, and incur primary civil liability for falls on dangerous sidewalks. In Denver, failure to remove sidewalk snow usually carries no civil liability and only a fine of up to $150. I’ve not yet handled a legal case so diminutive.
However, my law firm and I have prosecuted scores of significant slip, trip and fall cases. Many have occurred on Colorado sidewalks, with snow and ice often involved. Falls can be catastrophic. The bigger you are, the harder you fall. The older you are, the more brittle one’s bones.
I should know, having slipped and fallen on an icy sidewalk last week. I’d spent all Monday at a fascinating mediation of a sidewalk trip-and-fall case. The case ended great and late. I had enough time to rush back to my downtown skyscraper, park underground and put my stuff down in my office, before heading out with a friend who was driving us to the Pepsi Center to see our Nuggets.
My building is at 16th and Broadway. All I had to do was walk the width of the sidewalk on the east side of Broadway to enter the waiting Jeep. It was lightly snowing sideways, but the pavement looked crystal clear. Hitting the sidewalk, my right foot shot out on ice glazed concrete. I needed my left leg to save me, and it did, for a second, until it started to slip out.
Somehow, even at my age, flailing my arms like a madman, my right foot rejoined the game, and found solid pavement. I stayed upright. Barely.
Watching all this in his driver’s seat, my old pal was simultaneously mortified and convulsed. You know the way adolescents laugh when friends suffer various pratfalls. He’s not fully past that. As my dear old dad used to say, “It’s funny til someone gets hurt.”
The very next day, I fell on an icy sidewalk outside a client’s home. It was after our meeting as I was being walked to my car. My fall was quick and embarrassing. As my legs slid out, I tossed my briefcase and let gravity do the rest.
I landed on my wallet. There was some padding. It was like a pop-up slide into second. But without the popping up. I needed a hand. It was slippery, but I was safe and unhurt. Lord knows what went through my client’s mind when her personal injury lawyer took a tumble on her icy walkway.
Sidewalk cases are hard. Outside of Colorado Springs, adjacent property owners are rarely liable. Most cities’ defense is: Yes, we own the sidewalks, but we had no way of knowing. Nobody told us.
Under Colorado law, even as an invitee, your lawyer needs to prove the landowner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition.
Denver takes this position, that absent prior notice of a dangerous condition on its sidewalks, the city’s not liable.
So how can these cases be won? It helps to fall on privately owned sidewalks. In Denver’s commercial areas, many sidewalks are a blend of private and public property. Owners of big buildings often own pavement paralleling public pathways.
When someone’s injured on property of another by a dangerous condition, Colorado’s premises liability statute lays out the law. Much depends on the legal status of the person injured.
Trespassers get little protection, while people with license to be on the premises (licensees) get more. Invitees get the best treatment and may have a good case if the landowner knew, or should’ve known, of the dangerous condition.
You’d think sidewalk pedestrians are all invitees, having an implied open invitation to walk on public pathways. But there’s no Colorado case that says so explicitly. Maybe someday.
In the meantime, take care and beware as you stroll the icy sidewalks of Colorado.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C.
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