After years of wear and tear, and punishing freeze-thaw cycles, New York City’s sidewalks and streets are a mess. Potholes, dings, broken and cracked paving stones – they’re everywhere.

How bad is it exactly? According to the Department of Transportation’s “Daily Pothole” blog, around 5,500 potholes are filled every week. That’s a ton of street “defects,” as they’re known in legal parlance, and it doesn’t even begin to touch the amount of potholes that actually exist.

Everyone knows that potholes are dangerous. But there’s a specific legal loophole that could get the City off the hook for your injuries.

Can I Sue New York For Slipping & Falling In A Pot Hole?

Did you slip, trip and fall in a pothole? You may be able to sue someone, but it’s probably not the City of New York. That’s because in 2003, the City’s government passed a new law that shifted liability from itself to residents and citizens.

So how do you know who’s liable for the pavement where you fell? It’ll take some investigating.

Who Is Responsible For My Pothole Slip & Fall?

Injured by a pothole in the street? One marring the surface of a crosswalk, or along the gutter? The City is responsible for maintaining its roadways, so your injuries may be cause for a lawsuit. But New York is going to make it hard.

For one, the statute of limitations on suing the City is only 90 days. You cannot file a claim any later than that, regardless of your case’s merits. Beyond that, you’ll have to prove that the Department of Transportation was given written notice of the defect at least 15 days prior to your accident. Essentially, you’re demonstrating the fact that the DOT was given sufficient time to fill the pothole, but failed to do so.

Proving that the City knew about the pothole, but did nothing, is a significant barrier to many lawsuits. In 1979, New York passed the restriction into law, and saw a significant decline in pothole-related injury suits. But then the New York State Trial Lawyers Association started the “Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Protection Committee.” The organization created maps of New York’s streets, with a focus on defects, and mailed them to the DOT on a regular basis. The effect was clear – the City could no longer argue that it was ignorant of potholes. The next 20 years saw hundreds of millions paid out to injured pothole victims.

But 2003 saw another change to the law, and it directly impacts the liability for your accident if you slipped and fell on a sidewalk. Whoever owns the building that directly abuts the sidewalk is now responsible for the pavement’s condition. Not the State or City, but residents and business owners. In this case, you only have to prove that the property owner had sufficient time to fix the problem. You don’t have to show that they received official written notice.

This “shift” in liability applies to all sidewalks, unless the abutting building is a one, two or three-family home that is occupied by its owners and used solely as a residence. In that case, New York City is responsible. In this situation, you would have to prove the 15-day written notice requirement. Unfortunately, the Protection Committee stopped filing its maps with the Department of Transportation shortly after the law placing responsibility on property owners was passed. This made it much harder for attorneys to prove that the City received prior notice, but not impossible.

For example, the DOT is still required to keep a log of past complaints. In the event that your pothole caused someone else to fall in the past, this would constitute “prior written notice” and legitimize your present complaint.

Do I Need A Lawyer?

In most situations, yes. Before even undertaking the task of determining who is liable for your injuries, you’ll need to figure out whether or not you have a valid claim in the first place. And this necessary determination is best left to an experienced attorney.