Understanding Liability Issues in Accidents Caused by Poor Roadway Conditions

Understanding Liability Issues in Accidents Caused by Poor Roadway ConditionsOften when there is a car accident, the fault may not be on another driver. In fact, the accident may not even involve another car. In many cases, it is the condition of the actual road or other objects that can cause car accidents. When that happens, the negligent party can take some time and effort to ascertain. Because road condition accidents are such a broad category, the analysis for each can be dramatically different.

Objects in the Road

Although not technically a condition of the road, but rather a condition on the road, foreign objects on roadways create a very serious and potentially deadly hazard. Trucks that lose objects they are carrying or cars that lose parts all can litter highways.

At high speeds, debris can be flung up into oncoming traffic. The combination of the speed of the debris and the speed of the vehicle itself makes road debris a serious problem.

The difficulty with these kinds of cases is determining who is responsible for them—in most cases the vehicle that dropped the object is long gone. The negligent party is thus a “phantom driver.” This is why it is so important to have uninsured motorist (UM) insurance. Your UM carrier will take the shoes of the responsible motorist, and is responsible for payments to you for your injuries the same way the driver would have been had you found them and sued them.

The Roads Themselves

In many cases, the roads themselves may constitute a hazard. These accidents may involve roads that are poorly maintained, have cracks or bumps, or confusing or hard-to-see line work or signage.

In most cases, these roads will be owned or maintained by the state or municipality. That means suing a state agency, which involves sovereign immunity issues. You can only sue the state for certain kinds of negligence, and for the rest, the state is immune from liability.

You can only sue the state for negligent implementation of its duties, not for a negligent decision. So, for example, if the state makes a decision to put lane lines a certain way, but those lines are confusing and cause an accident, you cannot sue the state for that. However, if the state decides to put lane lines a certain way, but only paints half of them and leaves the rest unpainted, leading to a dangerous condition, the state’s operation of its plan was faulty, and it can be sued. You could not sue the state for only providing two lanes on a highway when traffic may dictate that four lanes are needed, but if there are safety cones carelessly left out on that road that cause a hazard, you could sue.

In these cases, there may also be multiple defendants—the state may be liable, but so might its contractors and private companies that are doing work on the roads.

With cracks or bumps in the road, ownership will play a big part in determining negligence. A crack in a roadway looks like a crack, but it may actually be emanating from underneath.

For example, in many cases, a tree that is located on private property may be growing underground, pushing up the roadway, or a burst pipe may be causing problems. The question becomes who the party is that is responsible for this condition.

Wet Roads

Wet roads also can create liability. In most cases, state and city owned and operated roads are coated and sealed to make them safe for careful driving, even in wet conditions. But sometimes, private roadway like parking lots may not be. Experts may need to be employed to investigate whether roads are properly maintained to account for regular rain.

Bad Viewpoints

Problems may also arise when viewpoints are blocked. When a driver exits private property to enter oncoming traffic, he or she should have a clear, unobstructed view of the roadway. But when businesses allow cars to park in a way that obstructs the view of oncoming traffic, or when trees or foliage obstruct the view, they can be liable.

As you may imagine, when anybody alleges that an accident is caused by wet or slippery roadways, much inquiry will be focused on the behavior of the driver—that is, whether the driver was driving under the speed limit, and in a careful nature.

Liability Issues

In many road condition accidents, one should inquire how many accidents have occurred before yours due to the allegedly negligent condition. In other words, the defense usually asks, if the roadway was so dangerous, why has it not seen other accidents?

That is not relevant in “temporary” conditions, like debris in the road, or construction workers who fail to put out cones or warnings, but it is relevant when a driver alleges poor signage, or confusing line work on a road. The defense will try to argue that a condition was not possibly dangerous, if nobody else had an accident at the location that you did.

Accident statistics may need to be obtained by your attorney to determine historical data of crashes at the site. Even a small number of accidents can be significant, if they all occurred at or near the same location. With enough data, a case can be made that the roadway owner knew or should have known that the design or setup of the roadway was dangerous.

Accidents caused by poor roadways involve complex analysis and often expert investigation. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your car accident case.