Between all the drivers staring at their cell phones, our roads that are rated a D, and the thousands of new residents pouring into North Texas, you are probably lucky not to get into a car accident when you drive around Dallas-Fort Worth. Adding to the chances are the pavement problems caused by last year easily being the rainiest in our history with a whopping 53 inches falling, a lot of it last month. The latest reported example is a 10 foot wide pothole in Fort Worth that shut down an intersection for two weeks after a car sank into it and had to be towed out. You may be wondering if the state or local government is liable for your damages if you are injured in a car or truck wreck caused by bad roads, broken stop lights, missing stop signs, or poor highway design or maintenance. This post will explain how Texas law works.
The answer depends on the specific facts of the case. A complicated interplay of premises liability, governmental duty, and negligence law controls the outcome. A vague statute and numerous court cases apply. Texas courts have had a lot of difficulty with this vexing area of the law.
The Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) codified the widely established principle that the government enjoys sovereign immunity. This is an legal concept that goes back to English law when a person was not allowed to sue the king or queen. However, as with all rules there are exceptions. Texans in limited circumstances can sue the state or the county or municipal government for damages if they are injured by government-owned vehicles driven by government employees on the job.
The road must have had a special defect. But the TTCA does not define that term and only provides two examples: excavations and obstructions. With such limited guidance, the determination can be difficult.
The road damage must be big enough that an average driver would be affected. For example, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that loose gravel applied to spot sealing highways that caused the a crash that took the life of a female driver did not qualify in Texas DOT v. York, 284 SW.3d 844 (Tex. 2009).
Examples of special defects:
Hole that was six to ten inches deep that extended across 90% of the road;
Pothole that was six inches deep that covered the entire road;
Caved-in portion of the road;
Slick road caused by road construction;
10 inch drop off along the shoulder of a road that stopped a car’s left wheels from reentering the highway;
Large metal sign that laid face down in the middle of the road;
Base of a traffic signal that extended 26 inches above street level that was located six finches off the road; and
Huge amount of standing water
These are not special defects:
Drop off or uneven pavement that is less than two inches;
Road that is under water or damaged due to buried water mains;
Car that is legally parked; and
Any defective road that is on a school’s site
Our personal injury law firm has handled all kinds of car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian collisions for the past nearly 40 years. We were just asked to investigate a claim on behalf of a man seriously injured when his motorcycle crashed after he hit a big hole on the side of an interstate.
Last year, we discussed how the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed a $1,200,000 verdict (reduced to $250,000, the cap under the TTCA) after a motorcyclist hit a huge crack in the highway and sustained major injuries in East Texas and his attorney proved that the State of Texas knew the highway was defective, was repairing the road nearby, and had already placed warning signs but at the wrong location.
Other bad road conditions causing crashes
The state or local government in Texas may also be liable for violating the TTCA in other cases. For example, a driver may be injured due to nonworking or absent signs, lights, markings or faulty road design and maintenance.
There are often different agencies that design and build roads including a mix of federal, state, or county governments. The Federal Tort Claims Act may also apply. Maintenance may be provided by a private company. Third party construction and maintenance companies can complicate liability. In addition, regulations written by groups like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices may be involved.
Here are some examples of improper road design that can qualify under the TTCA:
Extremely narrow lanes of traffic;
Excessive grade of hills;
Blind curves; and
What the motorist needs to prove
The burden of proof on the plaintiff is onerous. He must prove the following:
(1) the condition of the road posed an unreasonable risk of harm;
(2) the governmental unit knew or shown have known of the defect; and
(3) it it did not adequately warn the driver or make the road condition reasonable safe.
We can help you
On your own, you will presumably be overwhelmed by the legal system. The government and insurance attorneys will know that you do not know how to develop the case, file a lawsuit, and take your case to a jury. These lawsuits are intricate and vigorously contested by the Attorney General’s office, which is often assisted by another law firm. There are strict deadlines for filing pre-suit notices and lawsuits and other procedures that must be followed. These cases are not easy to win at trial and rarely settle out of court.
A personal injury lawyer will explain these specialized procedures to you. Evidence will be obtained, motions will be filed, and discovery and depositions will be conducted. Hearings will be scheduled. A jury will be convened to hear your case and hopefully award you compensation for your damages.
If you have been injured in an accident due to road defects or other road problems, contact Berenson Injury Law to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.