Car accidents are not always the result of driver negligence or error. Sometimes the road is to blame. When state and local authorities fail to properly correct a hazardous roadway condition or are negligent in the design of the road itself, it may be possible for an injured driver to recover damages.
Just becomes something is legally possible does not mean that it is easy. In fact, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently threw out two personal injury lawsuits arising from alleged road defects. In both cases the appeals court adhered to a much stricter interpretation of the law than the trial courts, which thought the plaintiff’s claims had some merit.
The Georgia Department of Transportation v. Balamo
In the first case, decided on October 16, the plaintiff “lost control of his truck on a wet road,” specifically State Route 24 in Milledgeville, and collided with a tractor trailer. The plaintiff sued the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) for “negligent design of the road.” Essentially, the plaintiff said the road was defective since it did not properly drain rainwater, thereby making it too dangerous for drivers.
The Court of Appeals held the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence supporting its negligent design argument. Defective design claims require expert testimony under Georgia law. Here, although the plaintiff did present an expert, his testimony failed to establish the road in question “failed to meet industry standards.” To the contrary, the expert admitted that the road “as designed” met the “minimum” standards, which is all the state needed to establish in order to avoid liability.
City of Macon v. Brown
The second case involves a municipality. The plaintiff here was traveling on a city-owned road in Macon, Georgia, when he got into a car accident. The plaintiff alleged that the accident was the result of a poorly maintained road–more specifically, an “area of broken pavement around a manhole.” When the plaintiff passed over this area in his vehicle, the pothole “caused his vehicle to veer into oncoming traffic and strike another vehicle head-on,” according to court records.
When a personal injury claim involves defective maintenance, as opposed to defective design, the plaintiff must show the defendant had “actual or constructive notice” of the problem. In plain English, Macon officials had to know there was a pothole prior to the plaintiff’s accident, or in the alternative there must be evidence that the city should have discovered the problem through the exercise of reasonable care.
Unfortunately for the plaintiff in this case, the Court of Appeals said his evidence failed to meet this legal standard. Indeed, the plaintiff’s main submission involved “photographs of the roadway taken approximately two weeks after the accident.” Although the trial judge thought the photographs could lead a jury to reasonably conclude the defective rod conduct “had existed long enough” to constitute constructive notice to the city, the Court of Appeals disagreed. As the higher court explained, “photographs alone do not establish how long the alleged defect took to develop and worsen.” Accordingly, the city was entitled to summary judgment.