Articles Posted in Dangerous Road Cases

Photo above:  A New York sidewalk defect, suitably marked with orange cones.

I love traveling and have done a lot of it, including in Mexico and Central America.  Right now I am in Costa Rica.  Love it here!  The people are super friendly, the climate is awesome, the food great.  The countryside is spectacular – active volcanoes, dense pristine jungles, and sandy beaches both on the Atlantic and Pacific costs. What’s not to like?

So far I can think of only one thing:  Their tort law.  Though I have not read their laws, I have to assume – from what I have seen – that someone injured through the negligence of others does not have much of a remedy in Court.  Take a look at this video I shot today before you read any further:

Rear-view of a young man hitchhiking on the side of the road
This fall your Central New York personal injury lawyer will again — for the 9th straight year — give his annual “CLE” (continuing legal education) class to fellow New York personal injury lawyers across New York State.  Once again I will be lecturing on the topic of governmental liability for causing personal injuries.  In other words, I’ll talk about how to hold the State and its various sub-divisions (counties, school districts, villages, towns etc.) liability for negligently causing personal injuries.  Each year, the New York State Trial Lawyers Academy invites me to do so.  I am invited to speak to rooms full of New York personal injury lawyers in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Manhattan, Queens, Long Island and more.

Why?  Because I have been fortunate enough through my work to become seen as one of the top experts in this field of law in New York State.  My articles on the subject have been published in New York’s most important law journals and magazines.  New York State judges sometimes cite to my work when they decide cases.

Suing governmental entities and agencies such as New York State or its cities, counties, school district, villages and towns is very different from suing a private wrongdoer such as a car driver or a hospital or a business.  The procedure is different, the time deadlines are different, the things you can sue for are different, and the defenses that can be raised are different.  You name it, it’s different.

Thumbnail image for defectiveroad.jpgToday a driver was seriously injured when she careened over an embankment at a sharp curve on Lakeshore Road, near Ontario Ave, in Cicero, near the edge of Oneida Lake. Some witnesses say the car was going too fast, but a neighbor was quoted in the paper saying the curve has a history of bad crashes.

The “history of bad crashes” caught my eye. By force of habit, my NY car accident lawyer thinking cap went on. Get under that cap with me for a moment.

Here’s my stream of thought: “Could this unfortunate driver, even if she was going a bit too fast, bring a claim against the State, County, Town or whoever designed the roadway? Did the design of the roadway contribute to her car accident? Was the posted speed limit too fast? Were there adequate signs announcing the curve? Should they have installed flashing yellow lights or other hazard warnings for the curve?”

rocket.jpg.jpgLast Sunday a van careered across several lanes of traffic on a highway overpass on the Bronx River Parkway before plunging off the side of the road and landing, upside down, in the Bronx Zoo, where all seven occupants, including three children, met their death. Yes, the van driver was surely at fault. He was probably speeding (68 in a 50 mile per hour zone), and he should not have lost control of his vehicle. But that doesn’t let the State of New York off the hook if it failed to design and maintain a safe roadway.

And it sure looks like New York State screwed up here. The van apparently hit a concrete curb on the right side of the roadway, which catapulted the van so high that it completely cleared, without touching, the four-foot high guardrail/fence.

This is totally unacceptable. What kind of engineering genius would put concrete curbs that act as launching pads for errant cars and send them flying over the guardrails? Make no sense at all.

bus.jpgIn an article entitled “NY DOT chief nixes big fixes for Onondaga Lake Parkway railroad bridge”, the Syracuse Post Standard quotes a top New York Department of Transportation official as saying that structural design changes to keep trucks, buses and other tall vehicles from crashing against the railroad bridge above the Onondaga Lake Parkway are too expensive and impractical. According to this official, while other less costly, minor improvements might be possible (including tinkering with the warning signs’ height), major structural changes aimed at eliminating the low clearance of the bridge are all but impossible.

How does a Syracuse bus accident attorney go about investigating this defense? Well, first, he or she would have to recognize that this “we couldn’t do it” defense is not new. It was probably invented about the same time as roads were! Therefore, there is a whole body New York roadway design liability case law that defines the parameters of this defense.

Here’s what that law says in a nutshell: While a governmental entity (such as the State of New York or Onondaga County) has a duty to plan, design, construct and maintain reasonably safe roads, highways, streets, bridges, intersection and traffic control devices, they have what’s known as “qualified immunity” from liability. Under this “qualified immunity”, the governmental body may be held liable only when its roadway design was “plainly inadequate or there was no reasonable basis for its plan or design”. The State or County can’t be held liable just because there might have been a better, safer design. The actual design has to be, in light of all the circumstances, “plainly inadequate” or “unreasonable”. Further, once the State is made aware that something about the road is dangerous (for example, tall trucks keep crashing against the bridge!), it must then undertake new studies to see if the danger can be reduced.

bus.jpgAt about 2:30 a.m. this morning, the top of a double-decker bus smashed into an overpass railroad bridge spanning the Onondaga Lake Parkway. The impact threw the entire bus on its side. The bus had left from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and was making its way to Toronto with scheduled stops in Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. There were apparently about 25 passengers on board, of which four are now dead, and several suffer serious injuries. A bus company spokesperson said that the driver had not made his scheduled stop in Syracuse, and that the bus was not on its scheduled bus route.

Our hearts go out to the families of the dead, and to the injured. Even those who are not seriously injured are undoubtedly experiencing severe emotional distress and post traumatic shock at this time.

As a Syracuse New York vehicular accident lawyer, I can tell you that this kind of accident cannot happen without some negligence or carelessness on the part of someone.

I recently blogged about defective roadway cases. A recent New York dangerous road lawsuit demonstrates some of the principles I talked about in that blog post.

In Popolizio v. County of Schenectady, a driver lost control of his car on the steep downgrade of a snowy County road, and slid his car straight across the road as it curved to the right, causing his car to leave the roadway and nose-dive into a steep-sided, twelve-foot wide, four-foot deep ditch. Despite the fact that the driver had lost control of his car and left the roadway, he got a $2,100,000 award after a trial for severe brain injuries he suffered when his car struck the far side of the ditch head-on.

How did he win? The injured man’s New York roadway defect attorneys won the case by presenting testimony from a highway engineering expert who explained that the design of the ditch did not meet acceptable engineering standards. The expert said that constructing such a ditch right next to a right-angle curve in the road was unacceptably dangerous because any cars that left the roadway there would plunge into the ditch and hit the bank of the ditch head on. The ditch should have been built so that a car going off the roadway could traverse it, or else guardrails should have been installed to prevent motor vehicles from plunging into the ditch.

defectiveroad.jpgI 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”.

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