Most car crashes are the result of at least one driver’s negligence, which can include driving while distracted, speeding, or tailgating. In other cases, a defective car part, such as a tire, could cause a vehicle to swerve into oncoming traffic. However, car accidents are not always the result of another person’s actions or even of a malfunctioning car part, but are caused by defective or dangerous roadways. In fact, it is estimated that as many as half of all deadly car crashes involved dangerous road conditions. Road maintenance is almost always the responsibility of a municipal, county, or state government entity, which are generally immune from suit. Fortunately, in Ohio, one of the few exceptions to governmental immunity allows those who are injured in accidents caused by the government’s negligent maintenance of a road to collect compensation for their injuries.
Types of Defects
The weather in Ohio can wreak havoc on the state’s freeways and streets, causing cracks and holes when the asphalt expands or contracts in response to extreme changes in temperature. Some of the most common types of road defects are caused by this kind of damage and include:
- Dips and slopes;
- Crumbling shoulders; and
- Uneven pavement.
These types of issues are easily fixed if addressed immediately. However, when they are overlooked or ignored, potholes and cracking can become a serious and dangerous problem for motorists. Other kinds of road defects stem from poor design or the use of substandard materials during construction and include problems, such as:
- Crumbling medians;
- Dangerous curves;
- Poor drainage;
- Misplaced utility poles;
- Inadequate shoulders;
- Missing guardrails; and
- A failure to install traffic signals, signs, or reflective markers where necessary.
The final type of road defect includes those caused by negligent maintenance or a failure to regularly inspect or repair damage, which can lead to the creation of the following safety hazards:
- Outdated exit ramps;
- Poor lighting;
- Overhanging trees and shrubbery;
- Faded lane markers; and
- Damaged or ineffective road signs.
Whether caused by negligent maintenance, improper design, the use of improper construction materials, or drastic changes in the weather, road defects can and should be repaired by those who are responsible for maintenance. A failure to fulfill these duties can have devastating consequences for drivers and bicyclists.
Ohio is protected from being sued by sovereign immunity, which shields most government bodies from liability. There are, however, a few exceptions to this general grant of immunity. This is because state law specifically allows political subdivisions to be held liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by their negligent failure to:
- Keep public roads in repair; or
- Remove obstructions from public roads.
Although the statute does not include a definition of what it means to keep public roads “in repair,” Ohio courts have provided some guidance on the issue and stated that the provision refers to fixing holes or crumbling pavement. Based on this definition, the courts have determined that cities have a duty to repair roads that have deteriorated to a point that they create a potentially hazardous condition. For this reason, if a city failed to use reasonable care in fulfilling these duties, it could be held liable.
Even though immunity has been waived by statute, a person injured in a car crash caused by a road defect must still establish that the other party was negligent, which requires proof that:
- The government entity had a duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining and repairing the roads;
- The defendant breached that duty; and
- The defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injury.
In cases involving an allegation of a hazard, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had either actual or constructive notice of the defect in order to establish that the government breached the reasonable duty of care. Actual notice involves having affirmative notice that a particular defect exists. A party has constructive notice, however, when the defect has existed for such a long period of time that it would have been discovered had the defendant been exercising reasonable care. So to establish that a city had constructive notice of a hazard or defect the plaintiff must provide evidence that:
- The unsafe condition existed in such a manner that it could or should have been discovered;
- The condition existed for such a length of time that it should or would have been discovered by an entity exercising reasonable care; and
- If it had been discovered, it would have created a reasonable apprehension of potential danger.
Proving these elements requires plaintiffs to have access to some or all of the following supporting evidence:
- Photographs of the scene of the accident, including damage to the vehicle;
- The injured party’s testimony regarding the road defect;
- The proximity of the defect to a route traveled routinely by city workers;
- Public records supplied by the city regarding the existence of prior complaints;
- Witness testimony;
- An accident reconstruction report;
- Police measurements; and
- The testimony of city road workers, including asphalt foremen.
It can be difficult to establish a government’s liability for road conditions, but it is not impossible, especially for plaintiffs who carefully preserve evidence and adhere to all of the city’s procedural requirements.
Contact Ohio Car Accident Lawyers Today to Speak with a Dedicated Cincinnati Car Accident Lawyer
Cincinnati residents who want to bring a claim against the city for negligent maintenance of local roads must file a notice of claim with the city before going to court. Failing to take this step can jeopardize the entire case, so if you live in Cincinnati and were involved in a car accident that was caused by a road defect, such as a pothole, crumbling medium, or defective traffic light, please contact the Ohio Car Accident Lawyers by submitting one of our standard contact forms and a member of our legal team will assist you in scheduling a free case evaluation with a compassionate and determined Cincinnati car accident attorney who can help you seek compensation for your medical costs, vehicle damage, and lost wages.