Governmental entities own and/or controls vast amounts of property in New Mexico. This property includes public buildings, schools, playgrounds, parks, streets and so on. It also includes thousands upon thousands of miles of sidewalks.
So what happens when you are injured on governmental property, including sidewalks? The good news is that you have many if not most of the same rights as you would in any other premises liability claim. Just like a private property owner or business, governmental entities have the duty to keep their premises safe for visitors. This includes sidewalks.
Failure to keep the sidewalks safe will result in liability on the part of the governmental entity. However, there are several additional hurdles you must clear in order to bring a claim against a governmental entity. There are of course shorter deadlines which must be considered in any claim against the government. There are also issues of responsibility and consequently liability for accidents on city sidewalks.
The deadlines must always be discussed first due to the fact that missing one will bar your claim completely. Again, the deadlines on these claims are much shorter than claims against private individuals or businesses. In case of claims against private parties, the statute of limitations is 3 years. In claims against the government, the statute of limitations is only 2 years. Worse yet, there is a 90 day Tort Claims Notice requirement. The Tort Claims Notice must be sent to the responsible agency or other party within 90 days of the accident. Failure to do this will bar your claim completely.
The next challenge relates to liability for accidents on the sidewalk in question. The following discussion presumes that the sidewalk is defective or otherwise unsafe. If it is not, then there is no claim.
Regarding responsibility for sidewalks, there is no question that the city owns and controls the sidewalks in many cases. In others, the sidewalk may by ordinance or otherwise be strictly the responsibility of the property owner abutting the sidewalk.
In cases of businesses and commercial areas in business districts or commercial thoroughfares, there is likely responsibility for both the property owner and the city or county. For instance, sidewalks running around downtown Albuquerque, likely fall under the control of both the city and the property owner or business to which it abuts. After all, both have responsibilities for maintaining them in a safe condition and neither may pass their responsibility off to others.
On the other hand, sidewalks throughout Albuquerque neighborhoods are likely strictly the responsibility of the property owner. This is often by city ordinance. In other words, the property owner has the responsibility to keep them safe by removing hazardous conditions or obstacles. However, the property owners likely do not have the financial responsibility for repair and maintenance of city sidewalks running through their property. These are easements for which the City is responsible.
Instead, the property owner would have a duty to report the defective or dangerous conditions. Though there are city ordinances that state that the City is not responsible for neighborhood sidewalks, it is unlikely that the City (or other governmental entity) could escape responsibility when the city knew of a dangerous condition and failed to take action to repair the condition or otherwise take action to protect the public.
Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Instead, sidewalks throughout Albuquerque (and other cities) neighborhoods fall into disrepair and the homeowners do nothing to report it, much less correct it. In this case, it is unlikely the City would be liable. After all, how can the City be held responsible for conditions of which it is not aware. Nor can the City be expected to inspect the thousands of miles of sidewalks throughout the City each day to verify they are safe.
This brings us to the bad news. The private homeowner may have no insurance to cover the accident and if he or she has no insurance, he or she likely has no assets of significant value against which to make a claim. Thus the determination of responsibility will often determine whether you have a recoverable claim at all.
And these issues are best addressed with the guidance of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Sorting Out Responsibility in a New Mexico Premises Liability Claim
Slip and Fall Accidents Do Not Always Lead to New Mexico Personal Injury Claims
Comparative Negligence in New Mexico Slip and Fall Claims