Municipalities and Their Liability for Dangerous Roadways

While many motor vehicle accidents occur as a result of driver negligence, there are some roadways which in themselves are inherently dangerous and cause a great number of accidents. Road hazards that lead to motor vehicle accidents may include the following:

  • Poor maintenance of roadways such as potholes and cracks in the pavement or signs that have fallen or cannot be seen due to overgrowth of foliage;
  • Design defects such as the failure to place guardrails strategically at curved portions of roadways, improper placement of signs, not constructing proper drainage for rainwater and insufficient line markings on the road; and
  • Roads that have speed limits that are too high for the road’s design.

Municipalities have a duty to alleviate known hazardous road conditions. This duty, however, is not absolute. Governmental entities enjoy what is known as governmental immunity. What this means is that it is not enough to show that the road was in itself unsafe. It must be shown that either that the study conducted prior to the road construction/design was inadequate or that the decision it made in regard to construction/design following the study was unreasonable.

For a municipality to be liable, it must first be made aware of the dangerous condition of the roadway. One of the most common ways in which it can be shown a municipality knew or should have known of the dangerous road condition, is if there is a history of prior accidents at that specific location. However, prior accidents are only admissible at trial if facts of the prior accidents are substantially similar to the accident being litigated. It is in the judge’s discretion, which prior accidents meet this criterion and are therefore admissible as evidence of prior notice. It is for this reason it is important that you retain the services of an attorney who has experience in litigating dangerous roadway cases. Cases against municipalities for dangerous conditions on roadways can be difficult and an attorney must have a good understanding of the law.

The attorneys at Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP, represented a motorcyclist in a claim against a local municipality for injuries sustained as a result of an accident with another vehicle at a very dangerous section of a roadway. The motorcyclist sustained devastating injuries including a brain injury, multiple fractures to his spine, as well as nerve injuries to his arm which ultimately resulted in the amputation of his right arm. In investigating prior accidents, it was learned that just 8 months prior to our client’s accident, a near identical motorcycle accident occurred at the same location resulting in the motorcyclist’s death. Unfortunately, the motorcyclist’s estate did not realize they had a viable claim against the municipality and was never compensated for the motorcyclist’s injuries. Many drivers who are involved in accidents because of a dangerous roadway never seek compensation for their injuries because they are unaware they may have a claim. If you are involved in an accident on a dangerous roadway, you should contact the attorneys at Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP for a thorough evaluation of your accident so that you do not lose out on being compensated for your injuries.