A City's Duty to Maintain Streets and Sidewalks in North Carolina

Posted by Sean P. CecilJul 01, 20160 Comments

Yesterday I read an article about a recent appellate decision in Washington State, confirming the City of Port Orchard's liability for a bike accident allegedly caused by defective maintenance of a city street. I am licensed in Washington (currently inactive) spent the formative years of my legal career, and keep up with interesting legal developments there. The article, which described the city's liability as previously unresolved, piqued my curiosity regarding such issues here in North Carolina. I am pleased to report that it appears cities in North Carolina also can be liable for injuries that result from negligent maintenance of city roads and sidewalks. (It should be noted, however, that roads and sidewalks maintained by the state Dept. of Transportation are likely protected by state sovereign immunity.)

By statute, a North Carolina city not only enjoys general authority and control over "all public streets, sidewalks, alleys, bridges, and other ways of public passage within its corporate limits," it also is obligated by a duty to keep the sidewalks, streets, alleys and bridges in "proper repair." See NCGS 160A-296(a)(1). This duty to maintain includes also a duty of reasonable inspection from time to time, but a city must have actual or constructive notice of a defect to be liable for injuries allegedly caused by the defect. Actual notice can be in (for example) the form of a citizen complaint; constructive notice can be established either through direct evidence of the duration of a dangerous condition, or through "circumstantial evidence from which the fact finder could infer that the dangerous condition existed for some time."

According to a recent (2016) NC Court of Appeals decision, to assert an actionable claim of negligent sidewalk maintenance against a city, a pedestrian must present evidence that:

(1) [the plaintiff] fell and sustained injuries;

(2) the proximate cause of the fall was a defect in or condition upon the sidewalk;

(3) the defect was of such a nature and extent that a reasonable person, knowing of its existence, should have foreseen that if it continued some person using the sidewalk in a proper manner would be likely to be injured by reason of such condition;

(4) the city had actual or constructive notice of the existence of the condition for a sufficient time prior to the plaintiff's fall to remedy the defect or guard against injury therefrom.

My research did not reveal any case law specifically with respect to cyclists, but I would have to assume that North Carolina courts would agree that a bicycle is a mode of "ordinary travel" and thus the duty to maintain streets and sidewalks in a safe manner extends to cyclists. 

If you or a loved one were injured and suspect the injury was the result of a city's failure to properly maintain a sidewalk, street, alley, or bridge, you should talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer. Our law firm provides free personal injury consultations, and I am happy to investigate the merits of such a claim. A consultation inquiry can be initiated either by using the contact form in this site's sidebar, or by calling us at 919.828.1456.