by Gary Taylor
Madden v. City of Iowa City and State of Iowa
(Iowa Supreme Court, June 13, 2014)
Beth Madden was riding her bike on a sidewalk abutting the University of Iowa when she lost control, crashed, and sustained injuries. She sued the city claiming that the city owned or had control over the sidewalk, a defect in the sidewalk caused the accident, and the city was negligent in failing to prevent or remedy the defect or failed to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the sidewalk. The city brought the university (the state of Iowa) in as a third party, citing a city ordinance that requires abutting property owners to maintain sidewalks in safe condition. The university disputed its liability, which gave rise to this case.
In Iowa, the courts have long followed the common law rule that an abutting property owner is not liable in tort for injuries arising from defects in adjacent sidewalks, and that statutes requiring abutting landowners to engage in maintenance such as snow and ice removal do not give rise to such liability. Iowa Code 364.12(2) provides:
A city shall keep all …sidewalks…in repair, and free from nuisance, with the following exceptions
b. The abutting property owner is responsible for the removal of the natural accumulations of snow and ice from the sidewalks within a reasonable amount of time and may be liable for damages caused by the failure of the abutting property owner to use reasonable care in the removal of the snow or ice….
c. The abutting property owner may be required by ordinance to maintain all property outside the lot and property lines and inside the curb lines upon the public streets….