I was leaving my office Sunday afternoon when I drove by this SUV which had driven into a huge hole after a water main had ruptured. Fortunately no one was injured, but this could have led to some serious injuries.
It is frightening that Texas’s roads were just rated a D in this report.
Our highways are sometimes designed and maintained poorly and cause crashes. Over the past nearly 40 years, I have seen these road hazards that have led to sometimes catastrophic car and truck wrecks:
- Huge potholes and cracks
- Large debris and standing water
- Inadequate or nonexistent shoulders with steep drop-offs
- Overgrown trees blocking visibility of signs and other vehicles
- Missing or malfunctioning traffic signals and signs
- Poorly designed bridges, curves or grades
- Inadequate lights
- Poorly designed or placed signs
- Dangerous ridging and buckling of pavement
Texas law governing defective roads
Who is liable if a car or truck wreck in Fort Worth or Dallas is caused by a road hazard? This depends on the specific facts of the case because a combination of premises liability, governmental duty, and negligence law applies. There are numerous statutes and court cases that apply.
Different government agencies design, build, and maintain roads at the federal, state, county, and local levels. But they can be shielded from liability due to stringent protections in the Texas and Federal Tort Claims Acts. In addition, construction companies and third parties can be involved, further complicating the issues.
The design of safe roads is made by government agencies that are required to abide by the standards established by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Texas Department of Transportation. Signs must abide by the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Other rules and regulations from governments and private companies also apply.
We investigate whether the road design or signs caused or contributed to the auto collision. If so, we investigate and obtain the necessary evidence against the liable government agency or contractor. Sometimes individual drivers are not the only parties that caused the crash to happen.
Here are some examples of improper road design:
- Blind curves
- Confusing intersections
- Too narrow lanes of traffic
- No or inadequate shoulders
- Excessive grades of hills
But not all road hazards are legally dangerous conditions including the following:
- A drop off or uneven pavement that is less than two inches
- Roads that are under water or damaged due to buried water mains (as what happened in Fort Worth)
- Barrel signs
- Cars that are legally parked
- Any defective road that is on a school’s site
Suing a government agency
If the crash was caused by a defective highway or road hazard, you will usually have to file a lawsuit against the state or county. Note that these lawsuits are intricate and vigorously contested by the Attorney General’s office, often assisted by a private law firm. You need to hire a law firm that has successfully represented injured people in these cases.
The government usually enjoys sovereign immunity from being sued. However the State of Texas has limited exceptions in these cases that may enable you to file suit. There are strict deadlines for filing pre-suit notices and lawsuits and other procedures that must be followed. A personal injury lawyer will explain these specialized procedures to you.
I recently discussed filing a claim against and suing the government in more detail here: How much money can you get if a government vehicle crashes into you?
How an attorney will help
On your own, you will be overwhelmed by the legal process. The state and/or insurance company for the negligent party will know that you do not know how to file a lawsuit and take your case to a jury and not pay you the damages you are seeking.
With an experienced lawyer by your side, you will be guided through the intricate legal system. All questions will be answered. Evidence will be obtained. Documents will be filed. A trial will be scheduled and a jury convened to hear your case and award you compensation. You have a much better chance of recovering the money you are entitled to receive.
If you have been injured in a car or truck accident, we will also examine whether hazardous road design or maintenance was involved. We fight for the safety of our clients and their safe driving is our #1 concern at Berenson Injury Law.