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When Is the State Liable for a Crash Due to Unsafe Road Conditions?

West Virginia may be famous for country roads, but that doesn’t mean those roads are always safe to drive on.  When you’re involved in an accident because road conditions are unsafe, who is responsible for your injuries and property damage? When is it possible to sue the state for damages?

The first element an injured party must prove is that the road conditions actually caused the accident. This requires finding a defect in the road and showing that a reasonable careful driver probably could not have avoided the accident. Defects in the road fall into three categories:

  • Faulty design — There are many possible design flaws that could make a road unreasonably dangerous: unreasonably steep downgrades, curves that are too sharp and/or poorly banked, poor drainage, poor visibility, absence of guard rails, absence of medians, soft shoulders, and so on. If a particular stretch of road has a record of frequent accidents, it is easier to make a case for the road being unreasonably unsafe.
  • Faulty construction or failed maintenance — We hear a great many complaints that our nation’s “crumbling infrastructure” of roads and bridges will make travel unsafe in the not-so-distant future, but many are already hazardous. A road can be faulty from the start or can fall into disrepair when neglected. The result can be potholes, dips, erosion, and loss of structural integrity.
  • Failure to warn — Road signage is vitally important because it provides the information motorists need to adjust their driving to avoid accidents. When signs are missing, faded, broken, poorly positioned, or confusing, they fail to convey the information drivers need to stay safe.

To assign fault, attorneys often argue that one factor was the essential cause of an accident. In this case, the argument would be, “If not for the poor road condition, the auto accident never would have happened.” In such a case, the plaintiff would sue the federal, state or local government entity responsible for constructing or maintaining the road.  But a defendant driver could also use this argument to shift blame from himself to the road conditions by attaching the government entity as a defendant in the lawsuit. From there, a jury could decide what portion of the blame the defendant driver and the government entity should bear.

To prove liability for the road conditions, the plaintiff (or defendant driver) would have to show the government entity was negligent. This generally involves showing the government knew or should have known about the hazardous condition, had ample opportunity to correct it, and simply did not meet its obligation to correct the hazard.

The Giatras Law Firm, PLLC is a respected personal injury law firm in Charleston, West Virginia known for aggressive auto accident representation. Call us or contact our firm online to schedule a free consultation.