Negligent drivers aren’t the only parties that cause car accidents. Each year, an undetermined number of car accidents are caused by poor and dangerous roadway conditions. Even the best and most defensive drivers can be caught off-guard by a sudden problem in the road, losing control of their vehicle and crashing.
When the bad condition of a road, street, or highway causes an accident, who is to blame for the resulting injuries and damages? The answer lies with how the problem was caused and how long it had gone unattended.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF POOR ROAD CONDITIONS?
To answer the first part of this liability equation, we need to examine the causes of poor road conditions. Every road is unique, so there will always be unique ways its condition can deteriorate, but there are some common factors and issues among most cases.
A few things that can cause a poor road condition are:
- Loose junk and debris: Did you crash into a stray object left in the road? Furniture, groceries, building materials, product, and more all fall off moving vehicles more often than you might think. Loose debris can fall off passenger vehicles and commercial trucks alike. The liable party should be the driver of the vehicle that left debris in the road, but identifying the right driver is often an impossibility since they rarely stop once something falls off their vehicle.
- Root intrusion: Wherever there are trees lining the roads or sidewalks, there is a risk of root intrusion in the street. Root intrusion occurs when the roots of a plant, often large roots from a tree, grow in an unintended direction and start to physically alter the ground above and around it. If you see a big lump in the road without an explanation, and that lump seems to grow each time you see it, then it is probably caused by root intrusion. Trees also bring the risk that they could fall into the road, blocking the path entirely.
- Potholes: Multiple cities across America are famous for their potholes, which are seen as the bane of the average motorist. Small potholes can easily pop a tire that bounces across them. Larger potholes can cause severe undercarriage damage to the average vehicle, amounting to steep auto shop bills. Potholes are usually formed when the soil beneath the top layer of asphalt moves away due to excess moisture, such as after heavy rainfall.
- Cracked asphalt: Long, hot summer days can blast the road with high temperatures. In places like Southern California, the asphalt can get as hot as 160 degrees Fahrenheit during a heatwave. As heated asphalt cools at night, it will start to deflate since the heat causes it to expand. This disruption in its form can cause the asphalt to crack, sometimes significantly enough to cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle.
MUNICIPALITIES NEED TO CARE FOR PUBLIC ROADS
Most counties have a municipal rule that roadway hazards on public streets and highways need to be cleared by a local roadway maintenance crew within a reasonable amount of time. After all, it is illogical to expect the average driver to get out of their car in the middle of traffic to haul a loose couch out of one of the lanes. To this end, local municipalities can be held liable for crashes caused by poor roadway conditions. But pursuing such a claim is typically more complex than the average car accident claim.
You will be restricted by a quick statute of limitations whenever you want to sue a government entity. In California, you have to file a claim against the responsible agency – like CalTrans or a local department of transportation – within 6 months of an accident. Other states have even briefer time limits, so you need to pay close attention to the laws in your area.
Furthermore, your claim needs to show that the roadway hazard was left in the street for an unreasonable amount of time and that it contributed to your crash. Municipal agencies can try to defend themselves by saying they did not receive notice of the hazard until after your accident, or only a short amount of time before, leaving them with no time to go clean it up. In other words, the defendant will certainly use any excuse they can to dodge liability for your damages. To build your claim with the confidence needed to stand up to such a stubborn and resourceful opposition, you should consider working with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.