Learn how to recover damages if you’re involved in an accident caused by a road defect, such as a pothole, construction or debris
Texas roads have been memorialized on the screen, from the television series Dallas to the film Bonnie and Clyde. But while Texas roads may conjure images of driving with the windows down and the sun shining bright, there’s a darker side to the Lone Star State’s roadways.
In Texas, 1 person is injured in a car accident every 2 minutes. What’s more, many of these accidents have nothing to do with other drivers but are instead caused by defective roads.
So what constitutes a defective road and who can you sue if you’re injured in an accident caused by a defective road?
In this article, we’ll answer those questions and more.
What is a defective road?
The term “defective road” is a broad term used to describe a road on which a dangerous defect or condition exists. Common examples include:
- Poor road maintenance. Road conditions such as broken guardrails, lack of lane dividers, and broken traffic lights can cause a road to be unsafe for drivers.
- Negligent road construction. Construction crews that fail to follow safety procedures while working can dangerously block roads and cause accidents.
- Potholes or uneven surfaces. Uneven road surfaces may seem harmless at first but they can cause serious damage. Potholes, loose gravel, and other similar hazards can cause vehicles to swerve or lose control and cause an accident.
- Unsafe road design. Steep drop-offs, dips, slopes, and dangerous lane marking can all be considered dangerous road design. Failing to point out these dangerous features for drivers with warning signs can be considered negligence in a personal injury case.
- Road debris. Road debris can be anything that falls out of a vehicle or blows onto the road. This includes unsecured cargo, disengaged trailers, and loose hubcaps.
All of the above factors can make it difficult for a driver, bicyclist, or motorcyclist to stay safe on the road. As a result, the party responsible for the road defect can be sued by the injured party in order to recover financial compensation.
Proving negligence in road defect cases
- Duty. First, you must prove that the government, road maintenance workers, another driver, or some other person or entity responsible for maintaining the safety of the road owed a duty to you. Unless you were trespassing on a private road, this is generally an easy element to prove.
- Breach of duty. Next, you must prove that the party responsible for maintaining the safety of the road breached the duty owed to you. To prove this element, you generally need to show that the responsible party (a) knew or should have known about the defect, and (b) failed to correct the defect or warn you about the defect.
- Causation. Third, you must prove that the breach (i.e., the failure to fix the defect or warn you about the defect) directly caused the accident.
- Harm. Lastly, you need to show that you actually suffered some harm as a result of the accident. This harm can be to your vehicle or to your body. Items like your medical bills and car repair bills will help prove this element.
Keep in mind that the defendant (the party being sued) may try to blame you for the accident. For example, the defendant might argue that even though there was a large pothole in the road, you should have seen the pothole and driven around it. In other words, the defendant might argue that you were at least partially responsible for the accident.
Texas follows the modified comparative fault theory. This means that your damages are reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if your damages are $100,000, but the judge or jury finds you 30% at fault for the accident, your damages will be reduced to $70,000.
What’s more, under the modified comparative fault theory, you’re prohibited from recovering any damages if you’re found to be more than 50% at fault.
Who can be sued?
Most road defect lawsuits involve a government entity (such as the Texas Department of Transportation). As a result, both the procedure for filing the claim and the deadline to file a claim differ from other car accident cases.
In most car crash cases, you have 2 years to file a claim. However, when the defendant is a government entity, you only have 6 months to file a claim.
What’s more, before you file a lawsuit, you must first submit a notice of claim to the proper government agency. The agency you’re suing is not always the agency that you need to provide notice to. Simply put, suing the government is confusing. If you think you have a road defect claim, it’s in your best interest to contact an attorney immediately to discuss your case.
Of course, it’s not always the case that a government entity is responsible for your road defect case. For example, if your car is struck by road debris, the responsible party could be anyone connected to the fallen item. This might be an individual driver or a company (such as a trucking company).
Tips for avoiding a road defect accident
AAA provides the following safety tips to help prevent and reduce the severity of accidents with road defects and road debris:
- Drivers and motorcyclists should search the road ahead at least 12 to 15 seconds for debris and other potential road hazards.
- Don’t get distracted by your phone, GPS, or other passengers, especially if there’s a hazard on the road.
- Don’t tailgate! By leaving at least 3 to 4 seconds of following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, you can see potential dangers in the road and avoid them more easily.
- If you see you’re about to make contact with debris or a road defect, safely reduce your speed as much as possible prior to making contact. Consider turning your hazards on to alert other drivers of a possible threat.
- When driving in low visibility, such as hazardous weather or night driving, be especially alert for animals, debris, and defects on or near the roadway.
- Always be aware of open space around your vehicle. Drivers should try to maintain open space to the front and at least one side of their vehicle at all times. If it’s safe, a driver can steer into that open space to avoid contact with an object.
Road defects can be scary. It might seem like no one is to blame when you’re involved in a car crash caused by road erosion or stray piece of trash. However, a good attorney can investigate your accident and locate the responsible party.
What’s more, most attorneys offer free initial consultations. If you’ve been injured by a road defect, talk to an attorney. You might be surprised to learn just how strong your case is.