I have blogged many times about Central New York auto accidents. I have discussed recent Central New York car accidents and shown how one or more of the driver’s would most likely be found at fault. Today I want to discuss another type of car accident case: Specifically, I want to discuss New York defective road design cases, that is, cases where the accident is the road’s fault.
The road’s fault? Yes, sometimes car accidents are caused by the negligent design or plan of a road, street, or highway. Maybe it tends to accumulate too much water during rainy times. Maybe it was not properly marked with signs, or the speed limits were too high, or the shoulder or draining ditch was too deep, or there should have been guardrails, or the guardrails were not properly designed, or the trees or shrubbery were too close to the road, or . . . well, the possibilities are almost infinite.
If you are injured in an accident caused by a defective road design, can you sue anyone? Yes you can, but you have to prove more than just that the road could have been better. Roads in New York are designed, built and maintained by New York State, or its Counties, or other municipalities such as towns, in other words, some kind of government entity. Generally, New York State and its counties and towns have what is known as “qualified immunity” from liability for highway, road and street planning and design decisions. What does “qualified immunity” mean? Well, it means that just proving the roadway design was bad is not enough to win your case. You must also show that the road was built “without adequate study or lacked a reasonable basis”.
What if the road was designed a long time ago when standards for safe road design weren’t as strict as today? Isn’t the government required to upgrade the road to meet modern safety standards? Generally, no. The road has to comply only with the standards existing when it was built, not later standards. Like most rules, however, this one has exceptions, in fact, two exceptions: (1) If the road build under the old standards has a history of accidents, then the government may be required to upgrade it to comply with modern standards; and (2) If the roadway undergoes a significant repair or reconstruction, then the government is required to upgrade the design to comply with current standards.
What if your car collides with objects near the road, such as trees, shrubs, or posts? Generally, the government is required only to maintain the roadway itself in a safe condition, not the area near the roadway. But again there are exceptions: You can sue for collisions with those objects when there were other collisions with those objects that put the government on notice of a specific dangerous condition. Also, where roadside hazards such as drainage ditches are “inherently dangerous”, the owner of the road has a duty to prevent vehicles from leaving the road or to eliminate the danger.
Bottom line: Faulty roadway design cases are not easy. They are a maze of rules, exceptions to the rules, and exceptions to the exceptions to the rules. If you believe your car accident may have been caused by a roadway defect, you need a New York defective road lawyer who understands the rules, the exceptions, and the exceptions to the exceptions.