[This is an article following up on Scott Staples's November 30 post detailing who is legally responsible for sidewalk repairs in Washington. Below is a snapshot of the law on the Oregon side.]
Who is legally responsible for sidewalk repairs in Oregon? It essentially depends on which city you live in. If you own land in Portland, in most cases, you are responsible for keeping sidewalks abutting your property in safe condition and good repair.
The Oregon Supreme Court has enabled the state's individual cities to shift the burdens of the duty to repair sidewalks and the liability that might result from unrepaired sidewalk conditions to land owners:
If by clear language the charter of a city imposes upon the abutting landowner the duty to repair a sidewalk, and also provides that such owner shall be liable for damages to third persons arising from his fault in failing to repair, then a person injured by a defective sidewalk may under conditions specified in the charter recover in an action for damages against the landowner.” — Marsh v. McLaughlin, 210 Or. 84, 309P.2d 188 (1957).
In Portland, for example, pursuant to the city charter, in section 17.28.020 (Responsibility for Sidewalks and Curbs):
The owner(s) of land abutting any street in the City shall be responsible for constructing, reconstructing, maintaining and repairing the sidewalks… abutting or immediately adjacent to said land…”
The charter language above shifts the duty to repair Portland city sidewalks to the owners of abutting properties. There are few exceptions, so it's always best to err on the side of caution if you are a Portland land owner (or an Oregon land owner whose city has a similarly-worded charter). The Portland charter also shifts the liability that might result from unrepaired sidewalk conditions to land owners:
Property owner(s) shall be liable for any and all damages to any person who is injured or otherwise suffers damage resulting from the defective condition of any sidewalk… adjacent to said land, or by reason of the property owner's failure to keep such sidewalk… in safe condition and good repair.”
Note the phrase “by reason of the property owner's failure to keep such sidewalk… in safe condition” which is included in addition to “good repair.” This means Portlanders should also keep sidewalks abutting their land free of debris and ice or other unsafe conditions in order to comply with the charter.
Finally, where Portland property owners do not live up to the requirements under the city charter and an injured person sues the city, those property owners will be liable to the city for any amounts the city ultimately pays as a result of the claims brought. This includes the reasonable costs of defending any such claim (investigation and attorney fees, etc.).
So what does it all mean? Oregonians should be aware of the duties they owe to folks using the sidewalks abutting their property and the extent of the liability they are exposed to in sidewalk injury instances. Again, it depends on which city you live in.
The silver lining: In protecting yourself from liability by maintaining the sidewalk abutting your land, you are also protecting fellow Oregonians from any potential harm they might suffer as a result of the condition of “your” sidewalk.
Helpful Sidewalk Repair Links: