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Can I Sue the City or State if a Defective Road Contributed to my Auto Accident?

Car Insurance

Most roads and highways are designed, constructed and maintained by the local municipality or by the state. On occasion, a flaw in the roadway design, the lack of adequate signage or a poorly maintained road surface can contribute to a motor vehicle accident with serious injuries to the motorist and passengers. If you can prove that an employee of the governmental entity was negligent in the design or that an omission such as providing adequate signage or maintenance led to the accident, then you may have a viable lawsuit.

Pothole road damage

Examples of a Defective Roadway

There are numerous examples of dangerous roadway conditions that the city or state is obligated to remedy or for which they are responsible for the faulty design or construction:

  • Inadequate median
  • Lack of guardrails
  • Poorly designed banking on curves
  • Omission of traffic signals
  • Overgrown vegetation obscuring a warning of hazardous road conditions
  • Flawed merging lanes
  • Poor grading on road surfaces
  • Unsafe pedestrian crossings
  • Pavement edge drops
  • Poorly marked road construction zones

Any of these conditions can lead to a devastating accident. In many instances, the investigating officer will fail to note a hazardous condition on a traffic accident report. It is up to your personal injury attorney to explore any factors that could have contributed to your accident, including the road itself.

The Duty of the City or State

Like a private individual, the city and state do have a duty of care or in this instance, to provide safe and safely maintained roadways free of dangerous conditions. In California, the California Department of Transportation is responsible for many of our roadways. Roadway designs are subject to certain standards and the failure to adhere to them may subject Caltrans to liability. An injured claimant who alleges that the state or city is responsible must prove the following:

  • The roadway hazard was unreasonably dangerous or posed an unreasonable risk of harm
  • It was foreseeable that the dangerous condition could lead to an accident
  • The city or state had adequate warning of the dangerous condition and failed to remedy it
  • within a reasonable time
  • The defect or dangerous condition was the legal or direct cause of the accident

Merely because a stop sign is missing or traffic lights are not working does not automatically mean that a substantially dangerous condition has been created. Some other danger must also be present so that the presence of the stop sign or operating traffic signal would have prevented it if the motorist had also exercised due care.

In some cases, the city or state may have contracted with a private company to construct or maintain a roadway. This fact does not render the governmental entity immune from liability, however, and you may have a suit against both parties.

Also, if the allegation concerns a defective design, the claimant will have to contend with established law that protects the governmental entity if the design was approved by a legislative body or other authority and is in conformity with previously approved standards. Still, the government must show that there is substantial evidence to support the reasonableness of the approval of the design.

Bringing a Injury Claim

Suing the city or the State of California means that you have to follow different rules than if you sued a private party. You will have to give notice first under the California Tort Claim Act. Notice of the accident to the proper entity must be given no later than 6 months from the date of the accident. The notice of claim must include:

  • Claimant’s name and address
  • Date, time, location and description of the accident or incident
  • Description of the injuries sustained
  • Name of the public employee who caused the injury, if known
  • Amount of damage claimed if less than $10,000, or if it is less than $25,000

The governmental entity has 45 days to respond. If no response is given, it is deemed denied. The claimant then has 2 years to file a lawsuit. If a notice is sent denying the claim, then you have 6 months to file a lawsuit.

Any claim against the city or state presents difficult and complex issues of liability. Think you have a suit against the city or state involving a car accident? Contact Andrew Ritholz to ensure all responsible parties are held accountable and your right to adequate compensation is protected.

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