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.
Interestingly, even though the jury found that the injured driver was at fault for having lost control of his car, it found that this mistake did not cause his injury. The jury concluded that, if a guardrail had been in place, or if the County had built something over the ditch so that a car could traverse it instead of plunging into it, the driver would not have been hurt at all. Therefore, it was solely the County’s fault that the motorist was injured, even though the driver’s leaving the road was his own fault.
New York dangerous roadway accident lawyers, including myself, are applauding this decision. It shows that juries are willing to hold governmental entities such as counties responsible for designing and maintaining unsafe roadways.