Caltrans and Municipal Transportation Agency – Injury Liability

California is the largest state in the country by population, and has an equally large and diverse set of transportation infrastructure.  In California, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is responsible for the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the state’s highway system and other state transport infrastructure. 

Beyond Caltrans are California’s Municipal Transportation Agencies (MTAs). These agencies operate at a county or city level, managing a network of public transit options including buses, subways and rail. Some of the more famous MTAs include the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA, including MUNI), the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro), and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS). 

Given their vast responsibility, each year there are numerous lawsuits regarding failures of Caltrans or local MTAs to adhere to their own guidelines, local law, or state law regarding the maintenance and operation of shared infrastructure.  While data on total Caltrans settlements and verdicts is not readily publicly available, the California State Controller maintains a list of MTA budgets including their total yearly expenses for “Casualty and Liability Expenses” (lawsuits and injuries).  Across two fiscal years, 2021 and 2022, the state MTAs collectively had total casualty and liability expenses of $436,275,000. State agencies face liability for myriad of reasons, from failing to maintain basic warnings to drivers of upcoming construction zones, failure to maintain road safety infrastructure such as guard rails, failure to comply with ADA requirements for the disabled, and more. 

If you wish to discuss a potential claim with an experienced injury attorney, contact the lawyers at Schneider Wallace Cottrell Konecky for a free and private legal consultation. 

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 Top 10 Municipal Transportation Agencies – By Casualty and Liability Expenses 

For the 2021 California government fiscal year, these were the top 10 Municipal Transportation Agencies by the total amount of injury, casualty, and liability costs: 

CA MTA (Fiscal Year 2021): 

Casulty and Liability Expenses: 

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority 

 $                                       32,172,647  

Southern California Regional Rail Authority 

 $                                       19,409,117  

San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District 

 $                                       16,642,588  

Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District 

 $                                       11,496,265  

Sacramento Regional Transit System 

 $                                         9,130,906  

San Mateo County Transit District 

 $                                         8,726,610  

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority 

 $                                         8,702,000  

Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board 

 $                                         8,473,430  


 $                                         7,651,589  

Access Services for Los Angeles County CTSA – Specialized Service 

 $                                         6,986,717  

 For the 2022 California government fiscal year, these were the top 10 MTAs by the total amount of expenses in the category of “Casualty and Liability”: 

MTA (Fiscal Year 2022): 

Casulty and Liability Expenses: 

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority 

 $                                       53,414,601  

Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District 

 $                                       21,392,288  

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority 

 $                                       17,331,000  

Sacramento Regional Transit System 

 $                                       15,828,720  

Southern California Regional Rail Authority 

 $                                       15,699,227  

San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District 

 $                                         8,017,099  

Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District 

 $                                         7,996,434  

Access Services for Los Angeles County CTSA – Specialized Service 

 $                                         7,190,981  

Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board 

 $                                         6,147,859  


 $                                         5,716,481  

Caltrans Injuries – Roads, Construction Zones, Maintenance 

Below is a list of areas where Caltrans responsibilities can result in liability for the government agency, when their failure to maintain safety or infrastructure contributes to or causes an injury: 

Roadway Design Flaws: Roads must be designed with the safety of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians in mind. If Caltrans approves or implements a design that has inherent flaws—like blind curves, unsafe merging lanes, or poorly placed intersections—it could lead to accidents. For instance, if a highway curve is too sharp without adequate signage, causing multiple vehicles to veer off-road, Caltrans might face claims for its design decisions. 

Improper Maintenance: Regular maintenance of roads is essential. Over time, issues like potholes, cracks, or eroded shoulders can develop. If Caltrans fails to address these in a timely manner, it can result in vehicular damage or accidents. An example would be a motorcyclist losing control due to a large pothole that had been reported but not repaired. 

Faulty Construction: When Caltrans oversees construction projects, the quality and safety of the work is paramount. If, for example, a newly constructed bridge has subpar materials leading to structural issues and accidents, Caltrans could be held liable for not ensuring the construction met necessary standards. 

Insufficient Signage: Clear signage is crucial for driver safety. If Caltrans fails to install necessary signs, or if signs are unclear or obscured, drivers may make unsafe decisions. For instance, a missing stop sign at an intersection can lead to a collision, placing liability on Caltrans. 

Hazardous Construction Zones: Caltrans must ensure that all construction zones are safe for both workers and passersby. If barriers are not clearly marked, or traffic is not adequately redirected, it can lead to collisions. An example might be a construction zone lacking clear detour signs, causing drivers to enter unsafe areas. 

Defective Barriers or Guardrails: Barriers and guardrails are meant to protect against off-road accidents or separate opposing traffic. If a guardrail breaks upon a minor impact, causing a car to plunge down an embankment, Caltrans might be implicated if the installation or the quality of the guardrail was substandard. 

Inadequate Lighting: Proper lighting is essential, especially in areas with high traffic or pedestrian activity. If a stretch of highway is poorly lit, leading to a night-time collision, Caltrans could be held liable for not ensuring adequate illumination. 

Failure to Address Known Hazards: Caltrans is expected to act on known hazards. If there’s a specific intersection known for frequent accidents and Caltrans doesn’t take corrective action, they might be accountable for subsequent collisions. 

Negligence of Caltrans Workers: All Caltrans employees must act responsibly. If a maintenance vehicle is left improperly parked on a highway shoulder, leading to a crash, Caltrans could be held accountable for the negligence of its employees. Caltrans has additional rules regarding maintain safety for drivers when doing road construction, including the use of cones, lights, additional safety vehicles, crash trailers, and more. Devastating injuries have occurred when Caltrans fails to maintain their standard of care regarding how they operate on the road. 

Improperly Conducted Inspections: Inspections ensure that infrastructure like bridges, tunnels, and roads remain safe. If Caltrans inspectors overlook significant safety issues, like a crack in a bridge that later collapses, the department could face significant claims. 

Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety: Caltrans is responsible for ensuring that pedestrian crosswalks, sidewalks, and bike lanes are safe. If a cyclist is injured due to a bike lane abruptly ending without warning signage, Caltrans might face liability. 

Environmental Hazards: Projects overseen by Caltrans must respect environmental guidelines. If, for instance, a construction project leads to contamination of a local water source due to mishandling of materials, and residents fall ill, Caltrans could be held responsible for not ensuring environmental safety. 

California Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) Liability 

Municipal Transportation Agencies (MTAs) in California operate on a county or city level and have different responsibilities compared to state-level entities like Caltrans. They maintain responsibility for transportation infrastructure, and face liability if they fail to maintain roads, public transportation operations, emergency response access, accessibility services and more.   

There are over one hundred MTA agencies across California. Below is a list of common responsibilities of MTAs and the associated potential liabilities: 

Accidents Involving Public Transit Vehicles: 

Responsibilities: MTAs are responsible for training drivers, ensuring that vehicles are operated safely, and maintaining regular routes and schedules to avoid undue risks. 

Examples of Potential Liability: A bus might collide with a passenger car because the MTA driver was speeding or not following traffic rules. Other examples could include instances where a tram derails due to operator error. 

Premises Liability at Transit Stations: 

Responsibilities: MTAs are in charge of maintaining transit stations, ensuring they are safe, clean, and hazard-free for all visitors. 

Examples of Potential Liability: If an MTA fails to address a leaking ceiling, causing a slippery floor and a passenger slips and gets injured. Similarly, a poorly lit staircase leading to a fall could result in claims against the MTA for failing to provide a safe environment. 

Vehicle Maintenance Issues: 

Responsibilities: MTAs are tasked with regularly inspecting and maintaining their fleet to ensure that vehicles are safe and operational. 

Examples of Potential Liability: Imagine a situation where a bus’s brakes fail because the MTA neglected routine maintenance. If this results in an accident, victims could claim that the MTA’s negligence in maintenance directly caused their injuries. 

Issues with Traffic Signals: 

Responsibilities: When MTAs oversee traffic signals, they must ensure these signals function correctly, coordinating traffic and ensuring pedestrian safety. 

Examples of Potential Liability: If an MTA-managed traffic light malfunctions, leading to a vehicle collision, injured parties might hold the local MTA liable. Or if a pedestrian crosswalk signal fails, leading to a pedestrian being struck as they cross the street. 

Bicycle Infrastructure Problems: 

Responsibilities: MTAs that provide cycling paths or lanes are responsible for their design, implementation, and maintenance to ensure cyclist safety. 

Examples of Potential Liability: If a designated bike lane suddenly ends without warning or is filled with debris and a cyclist gets injured as a result. 

Inadequate Public Notification: 

Responsibilities: MTAs must inform the public about service changes, safety measures, disruptions, or any other significant developments that impact commuters. 

Examples of Potential Liability: If an MTA fails to notify the public about scheduled maintenance, causing passengers to be stranded late at night in an unsafe area, and someone gets harmed. 

Fare Collection and Enforcement Incidents: 

Responsibilities: MTAs oversee the mechanisms for fare collection, ensuring that ticketing systems are user-friendly and effective. They also enforce fare compliance through personnel or technological means. 

Examples of Potential Liability: Confrontations between fare enforcement officers and passengers, particularly if there are allegations of excessive force or discrimination. 

Parking Facility Issues: 

Responsibilities: MTAs that operate parking facilities must ensure these areas are safe, well-maintained, and properly lit, providing adequate security measures where necessary. 

Examples of Potential Liability: Slip and fall accidents in poorly maintained parking areas can result in liability to the MTA. 

Emergency Response Failures: 

Responsibilities: MTAs are responsible for having protocols in place to address various emergencies, from medical incidents on vehicles to larger security threats at transit hubs. 

Examples of Potential Liability: If there’s a medical emergency on a bus and the driver fails to promptly get medical attention or doesn’t follow established emergency procedures, resulting in harm to the passenger, the MTA could face legal claims. The lack of clear evacuation routes during a major incident at a station would also subject the MTA to claims they contributed to or caused further injury. 

Lack of Accessibility: 

Responsibilities: MTAs must ensure that transit services and facilities are accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities, in accordance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Examples of Potential Liability: If a wheelchair-bound passenger is injured because a bus lacked a functioning ramp or an elevator at a train station is persistently out-of-order, the MTA may be liable for failing to provide accessible services. Discrimination claims could also arise if employees aren’t adequately trained to assist passengers with special needs. 

Employee-Related Incidents: 

Responsibilities: MTAs are responsible for the actions of their employees, ensuring they are well-trained, follow protocols, and behave professionally. 

Examples of Potential Liability: Imagine a scenario where a bus driver, while on duty, harasses or discriminates against a passenger. 

Environmental or Health Concerns: 

Responsibilities: MTAs must ensure that their operations and projects don’t harm the environment or pose undue health risks to communities. 

Examples of Potential Liability: If an MTA construction project contaminates local water sources or a bus depot emits pollutants exceeding permissible levels, affecting local residents’ health. 

Caltrans, Municipal Transportation Agencies, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a major US civil rights law, originally passed in 1990, prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all public and private places open to the general public. 

The law creates large ongoing responsibilities for government agencies to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy the same rights and access as other Americans. 

MTAs’ responsibilities include: 

  • Facility Accessibility: Stations, bus stops, and other transit facilities must be accessible. This includes ramps, elevators, and tactile signage for visually impaired individuals. 
  • Vehicle Accessibility: Buses, trams, and trains should be equipped with features like lowered floors or lifts, spaces for wheelchairs, and auditory announcements. 
  • Service Adjustments: MTAs should offer paratransit or alternative transportation services for those who can’t use standard transit vehicles or routes due to a disability. 

Historic Liabilities: MTAs have faced lawsuits for non-compliance with ADA provisions. Examples include: 

  • Physical Barriers: Inaccessible stations or stops, such as those lacking ramps or elevators, have been sources of legal action. 
  • Service Gaps: Failure to provide adequate paratransit services has led to claims. 
  • Employee Behavior: Lawsuits have arisen when transit employees didn’t assist or improperly treated passengers with disabilities. 
  • Duties Toward the Disabled: Beyond infrastructure and equipment, MTAs have a duty to ensure employees are trained to assist passengers with disabilities, to regularly review and update their services to address the needs of the disabled community, and to seek feedback to make continuous improvements. 

Adherence to the ADA isn’t just a legal obligation but a commitment to inclusivity, ensuring that all individuals, irrespective of their physical or mental abilities, can navigate and utilize public transportation effectively and with dignity. 

California Lawyers For California Cases 

Schneider Wallace is a California headquartered law firm representing Californians across the state.  To speak with an experienced attorney for a free legal consultation, reach out to us at our Los Angeles or Bay Area offices, call to schedule a phone appointment, or reach out to us online.  We stand ready to assist clients with their needs. 

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Los Angeles, California 90071

Tel: 415-421-7100

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