Most times motor vehicle accidents are caused by driver error. But sometimes they are also caused by the negligent design, plan or maintenance of a road, street, highway, intersection, shoulder, draining ditch, culvert or signage. Or sometimes defective roadway design or maintenance at least contributed to the accident. When that is the case, New York State recognizes the rights of those injured to sue the governmental entity that designed or maintained the roadway.
Roads in New York are designed, built and maintained by either New York State, or its Counties, or New York towns, villages or other municipalities. Generally, these governmental bodies benefit from what is known as "qualified immunity" from liability for roadway, highway, and street planning and design. This means that it is not enough to prove that the roadway, as designed, was unsafe, or that it could have been designed better. You also have to prove the road was constructed, built or designed "without adequate study or lacked a reasonable basis".
Some examples of dangerously designed roadways are roads that form puddles or accumulate rain water or flood because of poor drainage design, roads that are not properly marked with appropriate warning signs, roads that lack required guardrails, or whose guardrails are inadequate, roads that have too-high speed limits, roads with steep drop-off shoulders, roads whose drainage ditches are too deep, or which have trees or shrubbery planted too close to the road, and intersections or signage that do not safely control traffic or warn of dangers.
The government that owns the roadway is also required to properly maintain it. Some accidents are caused by careless or improper maintenance of the road, signage or signal devices. Examples are potholes not being timely filled, lines not being timely repainted, signs becoming obstructed by shrubbery or trees, traffic lights that malfunction, and drainage ditches or culverts not being timely cleared of obstructions.
Generally, in unsafe design cases, the rule is that the road has to comply only with the design and engineering standards that existing at the time the road was built, not modern roadway design standards. However, there are two very common exceptions to this rule: (1) If the road has a history of accidents, then the government may have to upgrade the design to comport with more modern standards; and (2) If the government undertakes a significant reconstruction project or repair of the road, this can trigger a requirement to upgrade the design to comply with current standards.
Although generally the government is required to ensure only that the roadway itself in safe, without regard to nearby objects such as trees, posts, poles and ditches, you can sue the government for collisions with such objects when there was a history of other collisions with those objects that gave the government notice of specific dangers. Also, where roadside hazards such as drainage ditches are deemed "inherently dangerous," a municipality has a duty to prevent vehicles from leaving the road or to eliminate the danger.
Faulty road design cases are not easy. A lawyer must navigate a labyrinth of rules, exceptions to rules, and exceptions to those exceptions. The government tends to fight hard. They often don't want to settle. A roadway design defect lawyer must be able and willing to try your dangerous roadway lawsuit.
The Syracuse, New York defective roadway lawyers of Michaels & Smolak have recovered millions of dollars in roadway design defect cases to cover their clients' medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and more. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a dangerous road design, CONTACT US for a free consultation with an experienced lawyer who can inform you of your legal rights and maximize your compensation