Until 2003 the City of New York was primarily responsible for injuries incurred by individuals through cracks, potholes and uneven surfaces on City sidewalks. The primary responsibility shifted in 2003, through City Council legislation, that made the abutting commercial or residential landowners primarily responsible. However, in the case of one, two or three family homes, where those residences are at least partially owner occupied, and where the residence is used exclusively for residential purposes, the City of New York remains primarily responsible.

Nevertheless, even in those instances where the City of New York would be primarily responsible for accidents that occur because of sidewalk defects, the liability shifts to the homeowner if the cause of the accident was some item that was installed for the benefit or “special use” of the adjoining homeowner.

Defects in driveways are common “special use” situations. A water shut off valve, embedded in the sidewalk, has been held to be a “special use”.

Wisdom would dictate the service of a Notice of Claim on the City of New York even if a “special use” is anticipated. It simply cannot hurt, and failure to do so could be catastrophic if an incorrect assumption regarding a “special use” is made. Below I have added the legislation that shifts liability for sidewalk defects mainly from the City of New York to abutting landowners.