If a road condition caused my accident, who is responsible for the damages?
With millions of vehicles on American roads everyday, the number of vehicular accidents is rising at an alarming rate. Accidents happen for a variety of reasons – most having to do with driver error. When a driver is at fault, we can force that driver to be responsible for any damages we have suffered. Sometimes, though, accidents happen through no fault of either driver. What happens when road conditions are the cause of an accident?
Injuries suffered as the result of any car accident are referred to as “damages” under the law. In order to recover damages for a car accident, you must prove “negligence”.
Negligence has been defined by many people in many different ways, but one legal dictionary defines it as “…behavior that creates unreasonable risks of harm to persons and property. A person acts negligently when his behavior departs from the conduct ordinarily expected of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.” A claim for negligence has at least four essential elements: duty, breach, causation and damages. Sometimes a fifth element is added – proximate cause – and sometimes duty and cause are put together to form just one element – conduct. Regardless, the basic elements of a negligence claim must be met in order to recover damages.
Lawyers, judges and legal scholars have been debating the exact definitions of these elements for decades so for purposes of this article we will just say that someone had a responsibility to protect you from harm and did not live up to that responsibility causing you to be injured in some way.
If we use the simplified definition of a claim for negligence as a starting point then you can start to see why and how a municipality could be held liable for damages as the result of dangerous road conditions. If the City in which you were driving is who maintains the road on which you had your accident, then they had a responsibility to keep the road safe. If, for instance, you hit a huge pot hole in the road causing you to veer into another car and you were injured in the resulting crash, then you might have a claim against the City. Negligence law, however, has a reasonableness test as well. In simple terms, if the City had been made aware of the dangerous condition 6 months ago and could have fixed it but didn’t, then you are more likely to prevail on a claim. On the other hand, if the pot hole just appeared last week in the middle of a snow storm and the City did not have time to fix it then you are less likely to prevail.
As you can see, the law of negligence is complicated and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. An additional important note is that as a rule, you must put a municipality on notice of your intent to file a claim. Unlike the more lengthy two year and up statute of limitations for other tort claims, municipalities frequently require notice within as little as 180 days. Therefore, if you think you might have a claim against a municipality, do not hesitate to seek legal advice. Contact the law offices of Ledger & Associates at 1-800-300-0001 or visit us at www.ledgerlaw.com.