When a motor vehicle leaves the roadway and crashes the common assumption is driver error. But,in a surprisingly high percentage of cases a roadway design defect contributed to the crash and, therefore, to any injury or death. An unsafe road may create legal liability for damages on the part of public entities. An article in TRIAL Magazine reminds us of many of the defects that exist on our highways. Excerpts from the article:
Liability for dead man’s curve
Studies show that 20 percent of all fatal accidents involve single automobiles running off the road.
The agencies that design and maintain roads and highways have a duty to ensure that they are safe for motorists exercising reasonable care. Inevitably, cars will skid, slide, be cut off, or run off the side of curved roads, and drivers will fall asleep or be distracted and lose control of their vehicles. Government agencies must design roads for such foreseeable events.
Roadways need recovery zones, so that an inattentive driver who goes off the road can return to it, or guardrails to redirect errant vehicles if the fall-off of the land or impediments such as poles or trees make recovery impossible. Road and highway agencies must create curves that can be navigated even if drivers exceed the posted speed limit, and they must bank curves so that even poor drivers can navigate them without falling victim to centrifugal forces. They should provide crash attenuators, such as guardrails or rumble strips or grooves, and give adequate warnings of hazards in the form of signage along the roadway where necessary.
Public agencies have a duty to exercise reasonable care to warn travelers of highway defects and unsafe areas. An agency that fails to do so may be held liable if someone is injured as a result of this failure. Guided by these general principles, courts consistently have recognized that highway agencies have a duty to erect and maintain adequate signs to warn of dangerous curves.