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1)  What are common types of road defects that cause car accidents?

 

Broadly, the common types of road defects that cause car accidents fit in to one of three categories: 

 

  1. design defect;

  2. construction defect; and/or

  3. maintenance defect.

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2)  What are common design defects for roads?

 

Common roadway design defects include such things as:

 

  • Lack of guardrail or weak guardrail;

  • Inadequate water drainage;

  • Inadequate lighting;

  • Improper or insufficient signage;

  • Dangerous curves;

  • Inadequate or sloping shoulders;

  • Inadequate roadway reflectors;

  • Excessive grade;

  • Cheap and inadequate materials (i.e. inadequate concrete to prevent corrosion);

  • Inadequate abutments;

  • Inadequate expansion joints;

  • Poorly configured intersections;

  • Inadequate sightlines and visual obstructions;

  • Lack of rumble strips;

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3)  What are common construction defects for roads?

 

Common roadway construction defects include:

 

  • Improperly placed signs;

  • Road debris and/or equipment in roadway;

  • Unsafe detours;

  • Improperly painted roadway lines;

  • Insufficient warning of road construction;

  • Improperly using traffic control devices;

  • Use of wrong or cheaper materials than required;

  • Unqualified workers, training and supervision;

  • Lack of proper construction barriers;

 

These are often work zone collisions that can be treated somewhat differently from other roadway defect cases.

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4)  What are common maintenance defects for roadways?

 

Common roadway maintenance defects can include:

 

  • Potholes;

  • Roadway erosion;

  • Shoulder erosion and steep drop-offs;

  • Oil buildup;

  • Uneven roadways;

  • Sinkholes causing waterpooling;

  • Overgrown vegetation blocking sightlines and/or signs;

  • Faded roadway paint;

  • Missing signs, markers, reflectors, etc.

  • Broken and malfunctioning stoplights;

  • Broken guardrail;

  • Missing grout;

  • Failing abutments;

  • Worn expansion joints;

  • Worn rumble strips;

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5)  What hazards are posed by road defects?

 

Road defects pose many hazards for drivers and the control over their vehicles, including:

 

  • Hydroplaning;

  • Tire blowout;

  • Roll-overs;

  • Axle damage;

  • Windshield damage from loose debris.

 

Although these often are causes for single-car collisions, multi-vehicle collisions are more likely to occur when there are missing signs, inadequate lighting, or malfunction stoplights.

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6)  Why is a vehicle inspection important?

 

Vehicle inspections are important immediately after a car accident involving a road defect because these collisions often involve single-car accidents.

 

Your vehicle will likely have physical evidence that will be important to proving your case, such as markings on the tire from the defect, damage to the alignment, or other physical damage a trained eye can identify.

 

Also, your vehicle likely contains important data on its on-board computer to help show that you did not cause the collision.  This data could include acceleration, deceleration, braking, speed, and similar data to show that you were not at-fault.

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7)  Why is a scene inspection important?

 

A scene inspection is important because any road defect is likely to be altered and repaired soon after a collision.

 

If a road defect, such as pothole, causes a collision, it would be responsible and is expected that the pothole would be repaired soon after so other drivers don’t suffer your same fate.  But, once it’s repaired, we have no way of capturing its condition as it existed on the date of your collision.

 

After a car accident involving a road defect, it’s imperative that a trained expert is sent to the scene to document the scene and road defect as soon as possible.

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8)  How to prove a road defect caused my accident?

 

Proving a road defect is achievable, but it’s more difficult than other types of car accidents.  Some ways a lawyer can prove a road defect include:

 

  • Photographs of the scene and specific defect;

  • Photographs of the damage to your vehicle;

  • A vehicle inspection of any vehicle mechanical damage, as well as collecting ECM data;

  • A scene inspection by a trained profession to document details of the roadway defect;

  • The police report and investigative file of your collision;

  • Video of your collision (if any);

  • Design plans for the roadway;

  • Maintenance, inspection, and repair records;

  • Complaints and other reports of the roadway defect;

  • Prior similar incidence records for similar collisions or problems (if any);

  • Violations of Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD);

  • Weather reports;

  • Witness statements; and/or

  • Expert testimony (i.e. accident reconstructionist; roadway engineer; etc.).

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9)  What is the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices?

 

The MUTCD contains national standards on design, application, and placement of traffic control devices. 

 

It is published by the Federal Highway Administration, and its purpose is to provide for uniformity of traffic control devices to promote highway safety and efficiency.

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10)  Who can be held responsible for road defects?

 

The potentially responsible party for a roadway defect is usually the government entity responsible for designing, building and maintaining that roadway.  But, potential defendants could include:

 

  • City/Municipality (if within city limits);

  • County government (county roadway);

  • Georgia Department of Transportation (State Routes and Interstates);

  • Contractors and Subcontractors (i.e. work zones);

  • Private Businesses (parking lot or private road defects);

  • Product Manufacturer (if defect is result of product defect, such as a stop light);

 

Government entities have very limited exposure to liability because they have sovereign immunity.  So, it’s important that all steps are taken to preserve claims against government entities?

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11)  What is sovereign immunity and why is it important?

 

The principle of sovereign immunity basically states that a government cannot be sued without its consent.

 

From a theoretical perspective, sovereign immunity is important because it protects the integrity of the policy-making process.  Meaning, the government does not have to change its policies and laws every time it is sued because someone has a dispute with the government.

 

Georgia has enacted the Georgia Tort Claims Act that provides the “consent” for injured people to sue Georgia state and local governments in limited circumstances.

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12)  What is ante litem notice and why is it important?

 

An ante litem notice is the specific notice requirements of the Georgia Tort Claims Act when an injured person wants to sue either the state, a county, or a municipality government.

 

It is important because failure to abide by the ante litem requirements means that an injured person cannot pursue their claim.

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13)  What must be proven to establish liability for a road defect?

 

There is no uniform formula for establishing liability for road defects.  General principles that may apply include proving:

 

  • Which government entity had control over the roadway;

  • The road presented an unreasonable risk of harm to drivers;

  • The government had actual (or at times, constructive) knowledge of the danger;

  • The road defect was allowed to continue to exist, unrepaired in a timely manner;

  • The road defect proximately caused your injuries.

 

These can be difficult to prove without the help of experts and a thorough documentation of the evidence.

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14)  What are some statutes that may apply to road defect cases?

Some statutes that may apply to a road defect case include:

 

  • 23 C.F.R. Part 655 (MUTCD Regulations);

  • O.C.G.A. § 50-21-26 (ante litem notice for the State of Georgia);

  • O.C.G.A. § 36-11-1 (ante litem notice for counties);

  • O.C.G.A. § 36-33-5 (ante litem notice for cities);

  • O.C.G.A. § 32-4-93 (city liability for roadway defects);

  • O.C.G.A. § 32-2-2 (powers and duties of GADOT); and/or

  • O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24 (exceptions to sovereign immunity of State of Georgia).

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15)  What is the American Society of Civil Engineers?

 

The ASCE is a professional body that represents civil engineers worldwide. 

 

Every four years, it grades different aspects of America’s infrastructure, including roadways.

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16)  What is Georgia’s score on ASCE’s report card?

 

The last time Georgia was graded by ASCE, its infrastructure report card received a grade of C+. 

 

For its roadways, it also received a score of C+, up from the C- score it received in 2014.

 

Though there is room for optimism due to the improvement, the grade suggests that there is still a long way to go to make Georgia’s roadways safe.

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