Two people were killed and two more were seriously injured in a wreck that witnesses blame on unsafe road design.
“It’s scary to drive on this [part of State Highway 169],” one witness flatly stated. He personally knew of ten wrecks over the past six months. “It’s sad but it could’ve been prevented. They’ve known about all these wrecks on this road for too long,” he added. This time, a truck and SUV collided on a curvy and wet portion of the highway. Two people inside the truck were declared dead at the scene. Two people inside the SUV were rushed to a nearby hospital.
The two deceased victims were Boyle County residents.
Standard of Care in Defective Road Claims
A hundred years ago, cars were available. But they were rare and expensive luxuries. Then, Henry Ford perfected assembly line production in the mid-1920s, and everything changed. As automobile popularity and availability expanded over the next decade, decision-makers knew they had to change the nation’s highway system as well.
In 1940, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials released the first edition of the Green Book. This guide, which has been revised multiple times over the years, is the standard of care for roadway design. Some highlights include:
- Speed Limits: Authorities cannot unilaterally set speed limits. Instead, factors like the road’s size (e.g. two lane, four lane, or whatever), the land’s topography, and traffic amount dictate the speed limit. As permanent conditions, such as the road’s size and amount of traffic, change, the speed limit must change as well.
- Road Configuration: Straight roads are safer than curvy roads. However, it’s not always possible to make roads perfectly straight. In these situations, the duty to provide additional safety measures is enhanced.
- Recovery Zones: Due to impairment or simply because they make a wrong turn, drivers often drift off roads. Therefore, roads must have shoulders which allow these drivers to get back on the straight and narrow. If shoulders are not an option, the road must have guardrails or other protective devices.
- Crash Cushions: Groups of barrels, which often line roads or are near highway exits, serve an important purpose. These impact attenuators absorb energy in wrecks. Furthermore, drivers who crash into barrels don’t crash into other vehicles.
- Signs: The Green Book usually requires driver alerts regarding anything unusual, like a sharp curve, narrow bridge, or a sudden dip. Signs must also warn drivers about construction zones or other temporary hazards.
Roadway design is an ongoing process. This year’s cars and trucks are almost always bigger and faster than last year’s vehicles. Roads that were built in the 1960s, or even earlier, usually require safety and other updates.
Slightly different standards apply to non-design issues, such as potholes and other defects. Planners not only have a duty to design safe roads. They have a duty to make them safe. If they know about defects, they must address them. The same standard applies to sidewalk defects, like large cracks, which are fall hazards.
Breach of Care and Sovereign Immunity
Absolute sovereign immunity is an old idea from the Middle Ages. Back in ye olden days, people couldn’t sue government officials under any circumstances. Basically, all these officials had diplomatic immunity. Today, sovereign immunity still exists in limited forms. The official immunity that police officers have is a good example.
Things are different in Kentucky. The Bluegrass State has one of the broadest sovereign immunity waivers in the country. Essentially, if a government official was negligent, legal action is usually possible. These actions simply have some additional procedural hurdles. So, if engineers fail to follow Green Book guidelines, or if they fail to update road design accordingly, a Lexington personal injury lawyer can usually file a claim for damages.
These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
As for post-design defects, like the aforementioned potholes, the road’s owner is usually liable for resulting injuries, if the owner knew or should have known about the defect. Direct evidence of actual knowledge could be a survey report. Circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known) could be multiple accidents in the same location.
We mentioned procedural hurdles above. Usually, defective road design or maintenance victims must file a notice of claim. After the city, county, state, or other responsible government entity investigates the claim, it must tender a settlement offer. Some time deadlines apply. Additionally, the settlement offer cannot be a “low ball” offer.
If the case doesn’t settle at this point, the victim usually files a claim in civil court. At that point, the normal rules usually apply.
Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act. #goodelawyers