You might be surprised to learn that poor highway design and road related conditions are responsible for more than 50% of highway fatalities each year in the US, more than drunk driving or speeding, according to a recent study.
State and federal law requires that cities, towns and villages design, build and maintain safe roads. The Federal Highway Administration regularly examine accident scenes of car injuries and fatalities where road design, maintenance or defects may have contributed.
Some of the common road conditions that lead to car crash injuries and fatalities include:
- Damaged, confusing or missing signs
- Improperly plowed or salted roads
- Poorly placed signals
- Improper grades and uneven shoulders
- Poor lighting, or overly bright lighting
- Broken guardrails
The First Steps When an Accident Occurs
If you suffer a car crash injury due to poor quality road conditions, you should report the accident to your insurance company. Most policies cover medical costs and property damage, even in the event of a single car accident. If you believe poor road conditions contributed to any car injuries you may have sustained, you may wish to pursue a claim against the governmental entity and/or contractor responsible for the design, building or maintenance of the road where the car crash injury occurred.
Contact the police to file an accident report. When speaking with the police officer about the accident report, bring to his attention any road conditions that may have contributed so they can be noted in the report. Additionally, you can take pictures or videos of the accident scene and any contributing factors.
State and local governments have sovereign immunity, meaning they are immune from civil lawsuits. However, there are exceptions. Courts have been eroding sovereign immunity for years and can make a determination whether a suit can move forward, based on whether a case can be made that the government entity was reckless or grossly negligent. It does take a lot of evidence to overcome sovereign immunity, but it has and can be done.
Identifying the Responsible Parties
You need to determine who is responsible for your accident. This could include private contracting firms, a local city government or even the Department of Transportation. Several entities could share the responsibility. A trip to the County Clerk’s office can help you sort of the various parties. You can find land surveys indicating who was involved in the design, construction and maintenance of the roadway.
How to Gather Evidence
You’ll need to take several steps to gather the evidence you need. Here is a brief description of what you’ll need to do:
Contact the Police
The accident report will include the names of any witnesses, and information about road conditions and quality, including anything weather related, or any fault or obstructions you feel may have caused the accident. You can request a copy of this report from the local police department.
Talk to Witnesses
Ask witnesses, including those living in the area, if accidents have occurred in this spot before, and if they have ever reported unsafe road conditions to any government entities.
Research lawsuits against the Federal Highway Administration and Department of Transportation at the federal courthouse. Look for lawsuits related to the location of your accident. Research the same types of lawsuits against government entities or private contractors at the county clerk’s office. Look for accident similar to what occurred in yours, evidence used, and the amount of compensation awarded. Your state’s attorney general’s office can provide copies of advisory opinions the AG’s office issued regarding road design and defects. Do research online about notices of claims, administrative hearings and lawsuits related to roadway defects.
Filing a Notice of Claim
If you intend to sue the government, you’ll need to file a Notice of Claim, which notifies the government you’re filing a civil suit against them. You’ll need to file a separate notice for each government entity involved. You’ll need to include all the relevant details of your accident, including date, time, location, and a detailed explanation of the fault that caused the accident. This statement should imply that government negligence was the direct and proximate cause of your accident and injuries. You’ll list your damages, including all medical and property damage, lost wages, etc.
A government attorney will review the notice, and may reject the claim for lack of evidence. Alternatively, the attorney may set up an administrative hearing, which gives you the opportunity to present your case. If your claim is denied at the hearing, you can file an administrative appeal. If the appeal fails, you will need a lawyer to file a lawsuit on your behalf.
Statute of Limitations
When filing a claim against the government, the statute of limitations may be six months, and is determined by locality. If you miss the filing deadline, you are ineligible for compensation.