Many folks do not realize that there can be hidden hazards in how a highway was designed that often create safety issues that contribute to causing deaths or injuries each year in accidents. These hidden hazards are becoming more visible because most of the highways and bridges in the United States were built in the 1950s and are now well past the end of their projected 50 years’ life expectancy. Many of them are in desperate need of repair or replacement. Even if the highway or bridge is not 50 years old, and, despite the advances in roadway engineering and design in the last century, errors in design and construction still contribute to far too many motor vehicle accidents.
There are two overall types of unsafe roadway cases: poorly designed roads and poorly maintained roads. “Poorly designed roads” can include such things as tight curves that cannot accommodate posted speeds limits, inadequate or unclear road markings, hidden or improper signs, dangerous trenches, potholes or drop-offs; blind intersections that put pedestrians and bicyclists at risk, improper grading or uneven roadways, or the lack of protective equipment, such as guardrails.
“Poor road maintenance” can also lead to serious car accidents and injuries. Examples of dangerous, defective maintenance include severe potholes, construction debris, items or equipment left in the path of traffic, excessive gravel or oil, or poor drainage that allows water to pool on the highway.
Several years ago, our firm handled a wrongful death case related to the death of 15-year-old young man. This young man died because of injuries he received in a one-vehicle accident that occurred in a highway construction zone on U.S. Highway 80 near the Montgomery Airport. The car was going through a temporary detour lane when it encountered a standing pool of water that covered nearly the entire width of the detour lane. The water caused the vehicle to hydroplane and crash into a temporary barrier wall and overturn.
Evidence showed that the construction company doing work on behalf of the State of Alabama had failed to properly maintain a drainage culvert, which caused water to pool and back out onto the highway. Although the State was responsible for designing the construction project, the general contractor had the responsibility under state specifications for providing continuous maintenance and upkeep of the construction site to provide for the safety of the traveling public.
Depending on what type of road is involved, responsibility for the roadway design or maintenance problems could lie with the state-level transportation department or a city/county municipality. Unfortunately, many government agencies are immune from certain types of injury claims. This immunity, commonly known as “sovereign immunity,” can prove difficult for personal injury claims. In the case mentioned above, there was a private contractor hired by the State of Alabama that was responsible for the highway defect.
These are just a few of the potentially dangerous roadway conditions faced by drivers every day that could result in an injury-causing car accident. Mike Crow, Julie Beasley and Ben Baker, lawyers in the Personal Injury & Product Liability Section, have successfully handled a number of roadway design cases. If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss a potential case, they can be contacted at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Crow@beasleyallen.com, Julia.Beasley@beasleyallen.com. or Ben.Baker@beasleyallen.com.
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