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Crashes caused by the chaos of road construction changes, lanes that suddenly end, poorly placed signs with no warning and general terrible design are completely preventable and that makes them all the more tragic. It is one thing when a driver errs in decision making for a moment and causes a crash. It is quite another when a construction crew ignores the industry standards on design or sign placement and people end up getting hurt or dying because of it.
So, what are the key elements to a case like this going forward? How do you know a viable one from one that has no chance legally?
Here are some common types:
There are a couple of essential steps once you have identified the type of negligence above:
Now that you have locked the scene down and hired an expert to focus on what went wrong, you need to decide who was in control and created the problem. It is far easier to pursue private contractors than governmental entities as you will see in a moment.
The state is protected from most lawsuits and to proceed you must go under the State Tort Claims Act. OCGA 50-21-20. The State is immune from suit over:
Remember there are strict Ante Litem Notice requirements for all governmental entities; 6 months for cities, one year for County and State.
Private roadway contractors can be sued for negligence in design, implementation, and maintenance but beware the acceptance doctrine that says once the government accepts the work, then the contractor is immune from suit. There are a few rare situations where we can get around this, but it is a challenge.
These cases are very expensive because of all of the expert costs; upwards of $80,000 at least. Because of this, law firms cannot afford to pursue these cases where the injuries are anything less than severe. Remember that damages against the State are capped at $1,000,000.
The most important thing to remember is there are ticky tacky defects in roads but unless its a big deal to a jury, you won’t win. A road being 1% too steep is not going to win a verdict in a case where the plaintiff was also speeding. This brings up an important point. The plaintiff must be fairly innocent in the whole case to prevail. That means no drunk drivers or people going at absolutely reckless speeds.
We handled the death of a woman who turned left out of her church at an intersection that the City of Douglasville had changed so that she could not see oncoming traffic. She passed away from her injuries. It took 2 years and multiple expert depositions but the reality was, it was a terrible roadway design.
We are handling the death of a young college student who went off the road an hit a stone fixture that was not supposed to be within 10 feet of the roadway in an area controlled by the City. That lawsuit is still progressing but we have already made a substantial recovery for the client.