Uneven Sidewalk Slip and Fall Injury Liability In California

In Williams v. Foster (1989) 216 Cal. App. 3d 510 [265 Cal. Rptr. 15], the Court of Appeal reversed a jury verdict in favor of a pedestrian who had been injured when he fell on a public sidewalk which had an uneven surface caused by the roots of a tree planted in a parkway in front of the property owner's residence. The defendants had moved for nonsuit, which motion the trial court had denied. In reversing the subsequent verdict and ordering that the trial court enter a judgment of nonsuit, the Williams court held that Streets and Highways Code section 5610 was controlling, viz., that the statutory duty placed on adjacent landowners to maintain and repair sidewalks was owed solely to the city and that that statute does not impose liability for injuries incurred by reason of a defect in the sidewalk. (216 Cal. App. 3d at p. 521.) The Williams court did recognize the holding of Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal. 3d 358 [178 Cal. Rptr. 783, 636 P.2d 1121], that a landowner may be held liable for negligent failure to correct or control a defect which results in injury to neighboring property. In so holding, our Supreme Court repudiated the common law rule of nonliability for natural conditions of land and held that a possessor's liability would be determined under ordinary negligence principles. (Williams, supra, 216 Cal. App. 3d at p. 519.) In the Williams court's view, the general negligence liability analysis of Sprecher was not appropriate in the circumstances there presented because the abutting owner in Williams did not own or possess an easement over the area in which the offending roots grew (or other cause arose). (Id. at pp. 520, 521.)