The Legal Implications of Privatizing Sidewalks in Kansas City

In light of the recent changes in Kansas City regarding the privatization of its sidewalks, many people wonder about the legal implications of suffering an injury on a non-public sidewalk. When considering the possibility of an injury from a slip, trip, or fall on a private sidewalk, it is important to understand the responsibilities of private property owners and the legal ramifications now that city legislators changed the law.

Private Sidewalks and Liability

According to Missouri premises liability laws, property owners must take reasonable steps to keep their premises safe. The types of accidents that lead to premises liability lawsuits can vary from a trip on an uneven curb to falling through a loose sidewalk grate. The most common causes of sidewalk-related lawsuits are tripping over cracked or broken sidewalks and slipping on icy or slippery surfaces.

Historically, most city sidewalks fall under the jurisdiction and responsibility of the city government. If the sidewalk falls under private ownership (such as that outside of a privately-owned business), however, the upkeep and maintenance of the sidewalk is the business owner’s, homeowner’s, or homeowner association’s responsibility. For example, a slip and fall on an icy sidewalk could indicate the business owner’s liability for failing to remove snow and ice from the property, as is the owner’s legal duty.

Determining Liability for a Sidewalk Accident in KC

When trying to determine liability for a sidewalk accident and victim injuries, the ownership of the sidewalk is a major factor, as is the reasonableness of the property owner’s attempt to prevent or repair a hazardous sidewalk defect. For example, an owner could escape liability if he or she put up a sign warning visitors to be careful on a broken area of the sidewalk. The plaintiff, or person with the injuries, must prove the defendant (property owner) breached a duty of care and that this breach resulted in the accident.

Now that Kansas City has officially given control and ownership of sidewalks in the entertainment district of Westport to the Westport Community Improvement District, injured parties could sue the private district instead of the city for injuries. The Westport Community Improvement District would only be liable for injuries, however, if it was guilty of negligence in allowing the accident to take place. It is the plaintiff’s burden to prove negligence.

Possible Defenses in Premises Liability Claims

When examining who might be liable for an injury that takes place on a privately-owned sidewalk, it is important to know the potential defenses against your suit. For example, the “open and obvious doctrine” places a certain degree of liability on the injured individual if the sidewalk hazard was clear, obvious, and easy to avoid. If the property owner made the thing that injured you clear or obvious to visitors, you might bear at least partial responsibility for the accident.

If you are considering a lawsuit after suffering an injury in downtown KC, you need to show the Westport Community Improvement District was negligent in its duties to keep the sidewalks and surrounding areas reasonably safe. This includes enacting safety measures against gun violence, as this is the primary reason KC lawmakers handed ownership of the sidewalks over to local authorities. According to the Westport Regional Business League, there were 16 gun-related crimes in the district in 2016 but a shocking 65 in just the first 10 months of 2017.

Due to the foreseeability of gun-related offenses in this district, it is reasonable to expect business owners to take measures such as installing metal detectors and security guards before allowing entry. If someone injures you on a Westport sidewalk in an act of violence, you could have a premises liability claim against the new private owners. Talk to an attorney for more information about your particular case.