Syracuse Injury Lawyer: Proving a Defective Roadway Design Case in New York State


Proving roadway design liability in New York State involves navigating a complex legal and technical terrain. If you were involved in an automobile crash that you believe was caused by a faulty roadway design or negligent maintenance of the roadway, you absolutely must hire a New York defective roadway design lawyer with experience in this rather daunting sub-specialty of personal injury law. What follows is a breakdown of the main issues your lawyer will need to address in your defective roadway case.

Whom to Sue?

One of the first considerations is whom to sue.  Usually, the owner of the roadway is responsible, or whatever entity “controls” it, though there are situations where a private contractor may also be held liable. It is not always clear to a lay person who owns or controls the roadway.  In New York, it can be a Town, County, Village, City or the State of New York. Sometimes it is a combination of these entities.  Thorough research must be conducted to ensure the right entities are being sued.

Time Limitations

A very important early consideration is time limitations.  They are different from the time limitations in ordinary negligence cases. Assuming the victim was injured but did not die, if the owner/controller of the roadway is a New York County, Town, Village or City, a “notice of claim” must be served on that entity within 90 days of the accident. Thereafter, a lawsuit must be filed within a year and ninety days.  If the owner was the State of New York, then a “notice of intention to file a claim” or a “claim” must be filed within 90 days.  If a “notice of intention” rather than a “claim” was filed in the first 90 days, then the claim must be filed within two years of the accident.  If a contractor is the target of the lawsuit, the only time limit is the three-year statute of limitations.

Proving Liability

Proving liability in defective roadway design cases is tricky and unlike other negligence cases. In New York, the process involves unique legal and evidentiary considerations to demonstrate negligence in the design of the roadway.  The legal and evidentiary considerations are almost entirely different when alleging negligent maintenance, which we are not discussing in this blog post.

To establish liability in a roadway design case, demonstrating the existence of a defect or hazardous condition in the roadway is crucial. This defect can arise from, for example, inadequate signage, poorly constructed intersections, insufficient traffic control devices, or defective road surfaces. Early and detailed documentation and evidence collection are essential to ensuring a courtroom victory.  At trial, proof will consist of, among other things, photographs, expert testimonies, accident reports, and any available records of prior incidents or complaints regarding the same or similar issue.

The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant failed to meet the standard of care for the roadway design as it existed at the time the roadway was designed. This involves showing that the design deviated from the accepted industry standards at the time, leading to a hazardous condition that helped cause the accident or injury. Alternatively, even if the roadway was designed appropriately at the time, but later showed a history of accidents, plaintiff can attempt to prove that the defendant knew or should have known of this history, and should have re-designed the roadway to minimize the danger.

A Special Hurdle:  “Qualified Governmental Immunity”

New York law has erected a special hurdle for plaintiffs in negligent roadway design cases.  Governmental entities who own and build roadways are protected by something called “qualified governmental immunity” for their roadway design.  This unique legal defense often limits the government’s liability for defective design to instances where the design is found to have “no rational basis” or is “plainly inadequate”.  A plaintiff can often get around this defense by showing that the government had prior notice that the design was causing accidents yet failed to correct it within a reasonable timeframe. Thus, proving the government’s prior knowledge of the hazardous condition and its failure to take corrective actions is often crucial in overcoming this defense.

Expert Witnesses are Crucial

Expert witnesses always play a critical role in establishing liability in roadway design cases. Civil engineers and accident reconstruction specialists are almost always needed to prove liability.  A good defective roadway design lawyer knows, from experience, which experts are most likely to win over a jury or judge.  These experts provide professional opinions and technical analysis regarding the roadway’s design flaws or defects and their role in helping cause the accident. They know how to explain complex engineering principles to a lay jury or a judge.


Proving “Causation”

As with any personal injury case, the plaintiff has the burden of proof.  Specifically, plaintiff must prove not only negligent design, but also a causal link between the roadway defect and the accident or injury. This does not mean plaintiff must prove the defect was the sole cause of the accident, but only that it wa a “substantial factor” in causing it. Just as with the issue of liability, the issue of “causation” often boils down to a “battle of the experts” in open court:  The government’s engineers testifying that the alleged defect had nothing to do with the accident, and the plaintiff’s expert testifying the complete opposite. That’s why choosing the right expert is crucial to success; you want your expert to “out testify” the government’s.


To sum up, proving roadway design liability in New York State necessitates a comprehensive approach that involves determining who to sue, carefully adhering to time limitations, gathering compelling evidence both as to liability and causation, choosing the right experts, navigating legal complexities, and overcoming special defenses. The process demands thorough preparation, meticulous documentation, and adherence to legal procedures to build a strong case and hold responsible parties accountable for injuries  resulting from defective roadway design. Don’t sell yourself short:  Hire only an experienced well reputed defective roadway design lawyer.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at:     I’d love to hear from you!

Michaels Bersani Kalabanka P.C.
Syracuse NY Defective Roadway Design Lawyers


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