When road defects cause an accident, is the city of Atlanta or the construction company liable?
A driver of a motorcycle was hospitalized in Atlanta when he struck a bump on the highway and was launched into the air.
We’re all familiar with one type of auto accident: the type where one or more vehicles crash as a result of the negligence of at least one of the drivers involved. When you think “car accident,” this is probably the sort of accident that springs to mind. This category of accidents encompasses a wide range of accidents, including those caused by speeding, right-of-way violations, and drunk, drowsy, and distracted driving.
But sometimes, auto accidents can occur without any driver negligence at all. In particular, these types of accidents can occur when there is some defect in the road that makes it unsafe to drive on, causing drivers to get in accidents (some of them very serious) even when they did nothing wrong.
There are many different types of poor road conditions that can cause or contribute to an accident, including everything from missing or damaged street signs or stop lights, to potholes and cracks in the pavement, to poor lighting at night, to roads that are slippery or full of debris, to roads that have been poorly designed by the original engineers.
To drivers who injure themselves on these dangerous roads, such an accident can feel particularly unfair. Here you were, driving along as safely as possible, and you end up hurting yourself anyways, not through your own carelessness or even that of another driver, but through the carelessness of the government entity you trusted to maintain the roads.
However, although most government agencies do their utmost to ensure that the roads under their jurisdiction are safe, accidents sometimes do happen. Such an accident happened in Atlanta only a couple of months back, when a motorcyclist was thrown hundreds of feet through the air after hitting a section of westbound Interstate 20 that bulged upwards.
Authorities in Atlanta weren’t even able to give a straight answer to the question of why the road was bulging upwards in the first place. At first, they claimed that it was because of a gas leak underneath the road. Later, however, they attributed the bulge to a buildup of air pressure after workers were filling old gas lines with concrete.
So, what comes next for this unfortunate motorcyclist? Even though he was not injured by the carelessness of another drive, this does not mean that he has no hope of recovering damages for his injuries. In situations where dangerous road conditions caused or contributed to an injury, the party responsible for the road conditions can be held liable for damages, just as a negligent driver would be.
Whose responsibility is it to keep the road safe?
Roads fall under the legal jurisdiction of a variety of local and state governments. Typically, streets in an urban area are maintained by the city, while roads outside of cities are maintained by county governments, and larger highways fall under the purview of the state. The federal government also plays a limited role in setting traffic law.
If you are injured in an accident that was caused by poor road conditions, who you are able to sue will depend on what government was responsible for maintaining the road you were on. As with other cases in personal injury law, road condition liability accidents stem from a duty and a breach of duty. In this case, it is the duty of the government entity in question to keep their roads safe and free of hazards. Such lawsuits also involve an injury which must have been caused by the breach of duty.
However, the government’s duty to maintain the roads is not absolute. To be responsible for a dangerous road condition, the government must have known about the danger (or had a reasonable time to discover it) and also must be given time to repair the road. Did the city of Atlanta have a reasonable amount of time to discover and fix (or at least block off) the bulge in Interstate 20 that led to the crash? It’s hard to say.
Also, filing a lawsuit against a government entity can be much harder than filing a lawsuit against a private entity. This is because of the statute of limitations, or the period after an accident occurs within which you are allowed to file a personal injury lawsuit. Typically, the statute of limitations for private entities is at least two years, and sometimes even longer, but for local governments, it is much shorter: about six months.
This doesn’t mean that you can never sue a city for your injuries. But it does make things harder, and if you are filing a lawsuit over poor road conditions, you will need to get your ducks in order much more quickly than you otherwise might. This is why, in such cases, finding the best personal injury lawyer for your case is of paramount importance.
Finally, it is not only local government which can be sued in response to poor road conditions. If another entity is partly or wholly responsible for the poor road conditions, then that entity may be held liable.
Can the injured motorcyclist sue the city for damages?
Most likely, the motorcyclist who was critically injured in Atlanta in April will be able to sue the city for his damages, if he is able to file the lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires on his case.
However, depending on the circumstances, he might also include the construction company which was directly responsible for the bulge in the road as another defendant in the lawsuit. It will all depend on the roles played in the incident by both respective entities, and how much each of them contributed to the buildup of air pressure that led to the dangerous bulge in the road,