If you've recently been injured in an auto accident, you may be wondering about your legal options. For most who were not at fault in an accident, this is limited to suing the at-fault driver (or his or her insurance company) to help compensate you for any medical bills, lost wages, or pain and suffering. However, in some cases, even the at-fault driver may not have been completely responsible for the accident -- it may have been due to poor or defective highway design. If this is the case, you could have a potential lawsuit against your city, county, or state. Read on to learn more about the types of situations in which defective highway design may be a viable claim, as well as what you should do to recover damages from your local jurisdiction and help its efforts to make the roads safer.
What types of defective highway design may lead to an accident?
There are several fairly common categories of defective or unsafe highway design. These include:
- Failure to properly extend ramps or access roads
Merging into traffic can be a tense situation, and if the merging lane is too short or curved to allow you to reach proper speed before merging, or there are no open lanes for you to enter, you may be at greater risk of crashing.
- Inadequate signage
In some rural areas, there may be no speed limit signs -- and if the road is fairly straight and open, this may cause drivers to overestimate their ability to brake in time to avoid a crash. Signs are also needed for other potentially dangerous conditions, such as warning about the risk of ice or flooding, a sharp curve, an upcoming intersections or stop, or certain road hazards.
- Poorly marked traffic signals
Sometimes, a stop sign just isn't enough -- particularly in rural areas, where summer may mean high fields of corn or bushy trees that can potentially block a stop sign from view. Because running a stop sign (even at low speeds) can lead to a serious accident, it's important for public jurisdictions to ensure that all stops are clearly and visibly marked.
What should you do if you feel you've been injured due to a defectively designed road?
One of the quickest ways to determine whether a certain portion of roadway is defective is to investigate the number of accidents that have taken place at that location over the last few years or decades. This information may be available through your local police department, as all accident reports must include the location of the accident. If this data is on a computer database, it may be relatively easy to sort by location and analyze the number of accidents. If you're unable to obtain this information yourself, you may wish to contact a personal injury attorney, who can issue a subpoena to the police station or highway transportation department requesting this information.
Your attorney will also be able to determine which governmental entity is responsible for designing, maintaining, and supervising the portion of road on which you were injured. Most states (and the federal government) have strict laws outlining exactly how long you have before a potential claim against this governmental entity expires -- so if you miss this deadline, you may be unable to file a lawsuit, even if the condition of the road was clearly dangerous. It's important to identify ownership and file a lawsuit or notice of claim as quickly as possible.
Finally, your attorney will be able to interview witnesses, subpoena records, and examine other documents and testimony that will help establish that you are entitled to collect expenses and other damages associated with the accident from the government (and sometimes the at-fault driver, as well). After your attorney has established that another entity was responsible for your accident and related injuries, the precise amount of damages to which you're entitled can be presented to the court or civil jury.