Monday, July 19, 2010
Help Me Howard: Sidewalk Battle
Here is one for you: the sidewalk in front of your property buckles or has cracks. Who has to fix it: you or the city? And if someone trips and falls on that crack, who has to pay the medical bills: you or the city? Good questions and scary answers, which is why one South Florida woman called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When Grace bought this house in Hollywood, she started fixing it up inside. She never thought about the outside, and the sidewalk.
Grace Estevez: "It is. It is a very scary situation."
It's scary because of a phone call she got from an attorney.
Grace Estevez: "His words were, 'You know you're going to get served.'"
The lawyer represented a woman who tripped and fell on the sidewalk in front of Grace's property, and Grace didn't have to use her imagination to figure out what the woman wants.
Grace Estevez: "All he said is that she had to have major surgery. I would think she would want money. That's what people are after for nowadays."
Now granted, the sidewalk was in bad shape. These are pictures taken after the alleged accident. As you can see, a tree's roots really buckled the sidewalk.
Grace Estevez: "I didn't even know that the sidewalk was my responsibility."
Well let's answer that question: who is responsible for maintaining a sidewalk running along your property?
Howard Finkelstein: "In most cases, the city owns the sidewalk, and in most cases, they require the homeowner to maintain and repair the sidewalk that runs in front of their property. Who determines if it needs maintenance? Usually the city does."
Grace says, she was never told to fix the sidewalk. In Hollywood, the city pays for half the repair. They replaced the sidewalk and are now billing Grace.
Grace Estevez: "So now, they probably have a lien on my house too, until I pay that off."
But that bill pales in comparison to the other bill Grace is worried about: the woman's medical bills.
Grace Estevez: "Well, my biggest fear is, you know, what can she do? Can she take my house? Can they put a lien on my house? Can they take my money from work? I'm concerned. What can happen?"
And if you want to really get Grace going, let her start talking about the city and why they didn't notice this cracked sidewalk.
Grace Estevez: "And it's like I told the people from the city, there's a person that passes by every day from the city, an inspector. If they see that you are fixing anything, such as a fence or a window or a roof, you need to have a permit for that. So why are they not looking that the sidewalks in Hollywood are broken?"
Grace lives in Hollywood. Howard says, she is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk. But is she responsible for the medical bills for someone who trips and falls on that sidewalk?
Howard Finkelstein: "No, Grace is not responsible for the medical bills, and in most cities, if somebody is injured, the city is responsible to pay the damages. However, there are some cities that have different laws, so check with your city attorney or city manager just to make sure."
It's been a stressful, painful lesson for Grace. She says, she is tempted to become an advocate in her neighborhood.
Grace Estevez: "Definitely. Every time I drive around Hollywood, I'm like, 'Oh, my God. Look at that sidewalk. It's broken.' I feel like going and knocking on people's houses, 'Did you know your sidewalk is broken?'"
Patrick Fraser: "If someone falls on the sidewalk near your property, as Howard says, in most cities, you aren't responsible for the medical bills. But that won't stop them from suing you. If they do, contact your homeowner's insurance company, and they have to pay an attorney to get the lawsuit tossed out."
Been tripped up by problems deeply rooted in your life? Sidestep the issue and walk this way. We may not always be all we are cracked up to be, but we sometimes come up with a concrete solution.