Neighbor tripped over a leaf hanging in front of our house...

by Joe
(San Jose, California)

A neighbor was walking and claims to have tripped over a leaf which was hanging over onto the sidewalk in front of our house. She had to have stitches on her forehead. The plant is located in the car strip and was not unwieldy or blocking the entire walkway at all.

Approximately fifteen to twenty minutes later her relatives were taking pictures of the plant. I do not feel we are negligent and maintain that this could happen to anyone. Additionally, her family members mentioned that she has fallen before (she is older and also has arthritis).

What are we responsible for, if anything? I feel they are opportunists. Who is at fault in this situation? Is there a way to defend against this? Thank you for any perspective you can give.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Neighbor tripped over a leaf hanging in front of our house...":

Joe (San Jose, California):

In California, in most cases the sidewalk up to the curb is the responsibility of the homeowner. According to Section 14.16.2200 of the San Jose California Code, San Jose property owners are legally bound to repair and maintain sidewalk areas, including parking strips when the property is adjacent to, or fronting the street.

To review the law, see Code 14.16.2200 - Maintenance and Repair of sidewalks code.

The property owner's legal duty to maintain and repair sidewalks in areas fronting or adjacent to the property is a "reasonable one."

This means if you as the property owner knew a tree on your property was losing its leaves and they were accumulating on the sidewalk area, and that the leaves were slippery, causing a dangerous condition, and with that knowledge failed to take reasonable efforts to clear the sidewalk area, then you may be liable.

However, if a single leaf fell from the tree on your property and that one leaf was the cause of the woman's fall, then you are likely not liable for her injuries and related damages. To better understand who's liable, read this article on property owners' and visitors' duty.

Moreover, if the woman who slipped and fell knew the sidewalk was slippery as a result of one or more leaves being on the sidewalk, and with that knowledge ignored the danger and walked along the sidewalk, then your liability for her injuries and related damages would be greatly diminished or entirely eliminated.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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