June 16, 2019

Can You Sue for Accidents Caused by Potholes?

In most cases of car accidents, you have another driver involved in the accident and someone is usually at fault for causing it. Therefore, the issue of identifying who is liable for your injuries and losses becomes easier.

Yet, what happens if you are injured in a car accident, you are the only vehicle involved, and the cause of the accident was a pothole in the road?

When something like this occurs, you are now facing the possibility of a lawsuit against a government entity. After all, rarely does a private party maintain roadways. In instances like this, it is important that you speak with an injury attorney as soon as possible. An injury advocate can help identify which government entity may be at fault and help you go through the process of filing a claim against the government.

If the pothole was on private property, you will still want to contact an attorney. An attorney will review the facts of the case and help prove that the property’s owner was negligent, which led to a pothole that caused your accident.

When Road Conditions Cause the Accident, Who Is at Fault?

Potholes or erosion on the roadway can lead to a serious car accident for any motorist – even the most cautious. If you are the victim of a car accident that occurred due to poor road conditions, you must show that an individual, company, or government entity was responsible for maintaining that roadway and that they failed to do so – leaving a hazardous condition in place.

Determining Who Was Responsible for Maintenance

The first step to determining whether you have a case is to identify who would be responsible for maintaining the roadways.

If you were injured on city streets or highways, then most likely the city, county, or state would be the party responsible for maintaining the roads and highways and ensuring that the potholes that were likely to lead to injuries were corrected.

If, however, you were on a private road or a pothole in a parking lot caused your accident, it may be the property owner, their maintenance company, or the landlord leasing out the commercial property to tenants who is responsible.

Why Do Potholes Cause Car Accidents?

Potholes, when you look at them, do not seem like they could lead to anything catastrophic. However, poor road conditions are a common cause for traffic accidents. When any roadway has a defect, it increases the risk for motor vehicle collisions.

Potholes can lead to physical injury and financial losses for the owners of those vehicles. Not only can it cause expensive damage to the undercarriage, frame, or body of your car, but a pothole can cause your vehicle to stop unexpectedly and be rear-ended by another driver.

When the City Is Involved, How Do You Sue?

When the city, county, or state is responsible for the pothole and the pothole caused an accident, different rules apply. First, the city or government responsible for maintenance of that road still has a responsibility to keep the road conditions reasonably safe for all motorists and pedestrians. To determine when they would be responsible, your attorney would need to address three key factors:

  1. Did the government know about the pothole? Have they been informed before the incident that there was a dangerous condition on the roadway?
  2. When the government did their usual safety survey of the area, was the pothole listed as a cause for concern in that report?
  3. Were the dangerous conditions present long enough for the government to learn about them?

Lastly, your attorney will see how much time passed between when the government was notified of the condition and when it would be repaired. When officials had reasonable amounts of time to fix an issue but did not, then they could be held liable for those road conditions and the accidents that they caused.

Special Rules for Lawsuits Against Government Entities

When you have a claim against a government entity, special rules apply. You must notify the government entity and give them a specific number of days to respond (which is governed by state laws). This allows them to assess the claim against them.

Because these situations are highly complex, you will want an attorney if it does turn out that the responsible party is a government entity.

When a Private Company or Owner is Liable

If your accident occurred in a parking lot, most likely the company managing the property or the owner of that location would be responsible for maintaining and correcting any roadway hazards. The same applies on private property roads leading to someone’s property.

In this case, your attorney would want to know if the company or individual had reasonable time to discover the condition and whether they also had time to correct it. They may review surveys and inspection reports for any citations on the potholes. They may also look at repair logs to see when the pothole was reported.

What Is Reasonable Time?

One thing you may have noticed is that all parties get a “reasonable” amount of time to respond to hazardous conditions. But what is considered reasonable?

There is no clear definition, because the courts do not want to put a strict number on these types of cases. Instead, they consider what the average person would do in that situation. For private property owners, if an owner knew that there was a dangerous condition but someone was injured less than 24 hours after they were aware of it, they might not be liable. After all, less than 24 hours is unreasonable for someone to make a repair. They could have, however, used cones to portion that area off so no one drove over it.

Bottom line: It all comes down to the circumstances, how long between discovering the issue and the accident, and the evidence.

If you or someone you love was seriously injured in an accident involving poor road conditions, contact an attorney at Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, LLP, today to discuss your options. We have three convenient office locations to serve you, and your initial consultation is always free.