Falling Through the Cracks: LA Refuses to Pay Claims for Injuries Suffered on City's Broken Sidewalks - NBC Southern California
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Falling Through the Cracks: LA Refuses to Pay Claims for Injuries Suffered on City's Broken Sidewalks

State law says if a city knew about a cracked or buckled sidewalk that created a "dangerous condition" and didn't fix it, it is often responsible to pay a claim, but that's not always happening.

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    Though the city of Los Angeles is often legally responsible for injuries suffered on its broken sidewalks, it refuses to pay claims, an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found. Joel Grover reports for the NBC4 News at 11 on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014)

    Some of LA's sidewalks are in such dangerous condition that pedestrians have suffered broken noses, shattered kneecaps, and bloodied faces.

    Even though the city is often legally responsible, it usually shirks accountability and refuses to pay claims, an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found.

    If you fall and injure yourself on a sidewalk, you can file a claim for the city to pay for things like your medical bills.

    State law says if a city knew about a cracked or buckled sidewalk that created a "dangerous condition" and didn't fix it, it is often responsible to pay a claim.

    "If they know about a bad sidewalk and they don't fix it and somebody gets injured, absolutely they need to pay a claim," said Lori Meyer, who fractured her leg on a buckled sidewalk on West Third Street this May, that the I-Team discovered the city knew was potentially dangerous since at least 2007.

    Meyer filed a claim for her medical expenses four months ago. Her claim was denied Oct. 22, according to records from the city attorney's office.

    The city later told NBC4 they made an error by marking her claim denied and said the claim is still under investigation.

    The I-Team found that of the 1,509 sidewalk injury claims filed in the past five years, the city paid only 65 claims -- about 4 percent.

    Almost all claims were denied.

    "It is possible" that the city has denied legitimate claims that it should have paid, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer told NBC4.

    Feuer says his office doesn't want to pay claims if the city wasn't responsible, such as if a pedestrian was texting while walking down a sidewalk.

    In addition, the I-Team discovered that the city usually doesn't notify injured citizens that their claims have been denied, which means many of them will miss the two-year statute of limitations to sue the city over a sidewalk accident.

    In fact, the I-Team found that often the only way a pedestrian injured on a dangerous sidewalk can get the city to take responsibility is to file a lawsuit against the city.

    "They want to place the blame on you, not on themselves," says Ludmila Klet, who tripped on a badly cracked Van Nuys sidewalk and broke her hip.

    She says the city had received complaints that others before her were injured on the same crack.

    Klet filed a claim, but then decided to sue the city. It settled with her for $425,000.

    "They were looking for a reason not to pay, not to accept responsibility," Klet told NBC4.

    The city of LA says it'll cost $1.5 billion dollars to fix all the dangerous sidewalks in town and it isn't sure how it's going to come up with the money.

    So for now, injured pedestrians will have to deal with a claims system that they think is as broken as the sidewalks.

    "I understand what they (residents) think about the process," Feuer told NBC4. "And there may be ways we can improve that process."

    He told NBC4 he's ordered an audit of the way his office handles sidewalk injury claims, to see if the process can be made more fair to the public.