Studies have found that California has some of the worst road conditions in the country. These conditions not only increase the chances of car accidents but also lead to higher repair and maintenance costs for the consumer. Additionally, poor road conditions can cause serious car accidents. 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:
1) 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.
2) 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.
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.
4) 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.
5) Weak or Eroding Shoulder
Many times, despite work being done on the main road, the shoulder is left untouched. Shoulders that are not stabilized are particularly dangerous to motorists who often stop on them because of an emergency. Unfortunately, they only present additional hazards for motorists needing to pull over for safety. Paved, stable shoulders that do not drop off can help prevent accidents and save lives.
6) Lack of Proper Signage
Poor road signage can directly lead to dangerous accidents as motorists need to be warned of potential hazards or work zones. In addition to a failure to place proper signage warning of known dangers, a case against a city or municipality may be strengthened if street signs are obstructed, incorrect, or have been missing. Drivers deserve to be informed through proper road signage that can prevent accidents in construction zones and areas of deterioration.
7) Overgrowth/obstruction Blocking the Road
Overgrowth and obstructions that block the road can also block a person’s view of other drivers, potential hazards, and changes in the road. Roadways should remain clear to allow motorists to move freely. Cities, municipalities, and other government agencies may be responsible for removing overgrowth or obstructions that block a driver’s view or ability to pass easily through traffic lanes.
8) Unreasonably Narrow Lanes
Unreasonably narrow lanes are a dangerous and potentially deadly problem. If a lane is not wide enough, a vehicle may be unable to navigate it safely without colliding with another vehicle or a stationary object. Narrow lanes, especially when traveling at high rates of speed, can increase a person’s risk of getting into a fatal accident.
9) Lane Markings (Lack of or Weak/Worn Off Markings)
Lane markings help motorists avoid collisions, but the parties responsible for the roadway must redo lane markings that have become weak or worn off. Over time normal wear and tear can make lane markings fade and become unviewable to motorists leading to an increase in collisions. In addition to weak or worn-off markings, confusing lane markings are also dangerous as drivers may be unable to tell which lane they should be traveling in.
Do I Have a Case if Bad Road Conditions Caused My Car Accident?
To determine if you have a valid claim for damages you need to speak to an attorney. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to sue the government agency that was responsible for the upkeep of the roadway. While not all accidents that were caused by bad road conditions will result in liability, some will. An attorney can help you determine your legal options.
However, it is important to note that the process and timeline for filing a claim against a government entity is different from a normal civil lawsuit. Winning a case against the California Department of Transportation or Caltrans is challenging, which is why you need a qualified attorney to help you understand the process.
To be successful you may need to prove that the government was negligent in their maintenance or upkeep of the road and that their negligence resulted in your injuries.
Can I Sue the City or Caltrans for an Accident Caused by Poor Road Conditions?
If your car accident was caused by poor road conditions, you may have an uphill battle trying to prove liability. In California, many roads are managed through Caltrans, a department of the Department of Transportation. Caltrans is responsible for the design, construction, maintenance, repair, and safety of over 50,000 miles of state highways and freeways.
In order to sue a government agency like Caltrans or a city for injuries resulting from an accident, you need to prove that the agency or municipality was negligent. Before suing the agency for negligence, however, you will need to file a claim.
Caltrans has a specific process for filing a claim based on the amount of damages you are seeking. If the amount of your claim is $10,000 or less, you can file a claim directly through the Department of Transportation. For claims over $10,000, you will need to file a claim with the Government Claims Program in Sacramento. An attorney can help you understand the process and your legal options.
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 car, truck, or bus accident. 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.