Key Considerations in Dangerous Road Condition Lawsuits

When pursuing a lawsuit against government entities for injuries or damages due to poor road conditions, several critical factors come into play: 

  1. Responsible Entity: The target of the lawsuit could be municipal, county, state, or federal agencies, depending on the road’s jurisdiction.
  2. Failure to Act:  Determining how the government agency, or their contractors, failed to meet the standards for designing and maintaining safe conditions. 
  3. Recoverable Damages: Plaintiffs may seek compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and in some cases punitive damages. 
  4. Partial Fault: Compensation is still possible under comparative negligence laws, even if the plaintiff shares some fault. Sometimes a Plaintiff may be found 10%, 20% or another portion responsible (looked away while driving, speeding at time they encountered the dangerous road conditions, or other issue). 
  5. Filing Requirements: Claims against government agencies have strict filing deadlines and procedural requirements. 

Government Liability in Road Maintenance 

Government agencies, local, state and sometimes federal, bear the responsibility for maintaining safe road conditions. For example, if you are biking in Oakland California and are severely injured going through a pothole at night you could not see, it may be the city of Oakland and their Oakland Department of Transportation may be liable. Liability arises from failure to address hazards such as potholes, unclear signage, inadequate guardrails, or malfunctioning signals.  

Proving liability involves demonstrating that the agency knew or should have known about the hazard and failed to act promptly.  Sources of information about dangerous conditions are numerous and include: 1) accident reports, 2) issues identified during prior regular maintenance, 3) complaints or reports from third parties including local residents who have seen or experienced dangerous conditions. 

Dangerous Road Conditions and Legal Implications 

The range of conditions considered hazardous includes, but is not limited to, structural defects, design flaws, construction errors, and maintenance neglect. Legal actions require showing negligence in any of these areas. 

Specific examples of defects and flaws include: 

  1.       Missing signs
  2.       Obscured signs, such as a tree preventing a sign from being visible
  3.       Poorly designed curves, overpasses, or rails
  4.       Missing strips on a road, including rumble strips
  5.       Missing or poor lighting
  6.       Traffic light failures or faulty traffic light systems
  7.       Inadequate or failed systems such as drainage systems that cause flooding when clogged.

The failures or defects can also be due to temporary work: 

  1. Missing signs identifying upcoming road work or construction
  2. Missing traffic control such as cone or marketing
  3. Failure of agencies to maintain safety equipment or accident mitigating equipment such as crash cars behind trucks operating in the road.

Statute of Limitations 

Generally in a state such as California, a plaintiff has two years to file a lawsuit after being injured by another’s action.  However filing claims against the Government frequently comes with shorter time periods to notify the government of your claim. 

  1. California: Mandates filing a claim within six months for damages, followed by a six-month period to file a lawsuit post-claim denial.  For claims of less than $10,000 against California Caltrans (California Department of Transportation), you can use form LD-0274 available at the Caltrans website.  For claims above $10,000, as would occur with any serious injury and in cases of wrongful death, claims must be made against the government within 6 months  
  2. Washington: Requires filing a tort claim form at least 60 days before suing. The overall limitation period typically aligns with the state’s personal injury statute of limitations of three years. 
  3. Oregon: Demands a tort claim notice within 180 days for personal injury cases, with a lawsuit filing deadline of two years from the injury date. 

Each state has distinct forms and procedural requirements for submitting claims against government entities, underscoring the need for careful adherence to legal guidelines. 

Evidence and Partial Liability 

Successful claims necessitate comprehensive evidence collection, including witness testimonies, police reports, and documentation of the hazard. Even if plaintiffs are found partially at fault, compensation adjusted for their degree of fault may be obtained. 

Compensation for Damages 

Victims can seek broad compensation covering economic losses (medical bills, lost wages) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). Punitive damages may also be pursued in cases of egregious negligence. 

Damage calculations, both for lost wages and for economic losses from missed work in the future due to injuries, are complex and frequently require the use of experts. 

Additional Liable Parties 

Liability may extend beyond government agencies to include contractors or manufacturers contributing to the hazardous condition. Identifying all liable parties is essential for a comprehensive legal strategy. 

Strategic Legal Considerations 

Investigating and proving negligence in road condition cases requires specialized legal expertise, including understanding how to navigate government claims processes and combat common defense strategies employed by government entities. Even with shared fault, plaintiffs can secure compensation, highlighting the importance of a nuanced understanding of state-specific comparative negligence laws. 

The complexity and costs associated with road condition lawsuits necessitate prompt action to preserve evidence, consult experts, and meet all legal deadlines. 

Successful litigation against government agencies for poor road conditions demands a strategic approach, from thorough evidence gathering, proving all the potential liable parties and their specific failures to act or warn, and accurately calculating and pursuing all possible damages. Given the procedural nuances and strict deadlines, consider consulting with experienced legal counsel to navigate these claims effectively. 

Schneider Wallace is known for our aggressive pursuit of injured patients’ rights through complex litigation and class action lawsuits. To learn more about recovering damages for injuries, schedule a consultation with our trial lawyers at our California, Texas or Puerto Rico office. We practice before state and federal courts in jurisdictions throughout the United States in individual claims, class actions and multidistrict litigation.

To schedule an appointment with our knowledgeable attorneys regarding your or a family members serious injury, please call us for a free consultation at 1-800-689-0024. Or you can email us at  

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