Millions of trips are taken every day on Los Angeles roads as we drive to and from work and school. We expect, in exchange for our tax dollars, that the roads are kept safe and in working order. Which is why when crashes occur because roads aren’t designed or maintained properly, we struggle to find answers. How did this happen? Who is responsible? How do we prevent further injuries and deaths?
A crash because of a dangerous road often leads to a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. These types of cases fall into two categories. The first occurs when the design of the road is faulty and there are safety concerns from the beginning. The second occurs when the road has been improperly maintained. Both types of cases are very difficult to win, but hiring a lawyer with experience can greatly increase your odds of obtaining justice.
While it can seem overwhelming to win a lawsuit, based on a dangerous roadway, with the right legal team carefully and expertly building your case, you can win the justice you deserve.
Dangerous design cases occur when proper safety standards were not followed from the outset. For example, a barrier might not have been installed in an area where it is necessary to prevent a vehicle from leaving the road.
The government entity responsible for the road design might have immunity from liability if the design went through a formal approval process. However, this immunity does not apply if there was no formal approval or if conditions changed so that the design became more dangerous.
After they are built, roads need regular maintenance to keep them safe. Crashes can occur when roads aren’t properly maintained and a dangerous condition arises, such as a road that does not drain appropriately during flooding. While liability immunity can protect a government in cases of design issues, it does not cover them for ongoing road maintenance.
There are three hurdles to jump over to win dangerous roadway cases. First, this sounds obvious, but you must show that the dangerous condition existed at the time of the crash on the publicly used roadway. Second, your lawyer much show that the governmental entity responsible for designing the road created the dangerous condition or was aware of it. Third, you must prove the dangerous condition caused the crash, not another factor like speed, substance use, or an adverse driver.
In both types of cases, faulty design and faulty maintenance, the defense usually claims that the crash is the driver’s fault. You need to address that argument and prove that the driver was operating within reason. The crash wouldn’t have occurred, or wouldn’t have been as bad, if the road was maintained properly. In other words, the condition of the road is the primary cause.
To prove the dangerous condition existed, your lawyer may hire an investigator to document the crash location. Photos are always helpful as is recording witness statements as soon after the crash as possible. Finally, it’s very useful to have the wrecked car preserved. We recommend hiring representation as soon after the crash as you can so that these steps can be taken right away.
In addition, it’s important to investigate prior crashes in the area to prove that the road is in fact dangerous. You can find information on Caltrans. Another option is to go door-to-door in the area asking neighbors if other crashes have occurred. You may be able to obtain this information from defense witnesses as well.
To prove the governmental entity knew about the condition, we need to distinguish between actual notice and constructive notice.
Actual notice means you can prove that the responsible party knew about the dangerous condition. If you have a memo, letter, or email where it shows that they knew this was a dangerous condition and didn’t correct it, that can be very powerful evidence.
Constructive notice means you can show that the condition existed for a long time, that any reasonable person would understand the condition was dangerous, and that if they were doing their jobs correctly they would have noticed the condition and corrected it. Often, government entities will have rules about how often they are supposed to inspect their own roadways. If a condition has existed for a long enough period where an inspection should have caught it, you can prove notice that way.
The last step in a successful case is proving the dangerous condition caused the crash. To do this, we often bring in experts to help connect the details into a cohesive argument. We start with an crash reconstructionist who can figure out the details of the specific crash and the factor(s) that led to its occurrence. We also use a traffic engineer who can testify to the design of the road, how it could have been improved, and the maintenance that should have been done to keep it safe.
The quality of your experts is more important than the quantity. We’ve successfully proved liability in wrongful death cases with just two experts, while the defense used five. Using too many experts can cause more harm than good, especially when an expert inadvertently helps the other side. For example, your lawyer can reveal inconsistencies in expert testimony, or how facts were manipulated to help the defense. Juries are also aware that experts are paid to testify, which can obviously affect a decision.
Specifically, in a dangerous roadway lawsuit, you want someone who has experience with the design, construction, and maintenance of roads, who can present alternative actions the governmental entity could have done to prevent crashes.
No matter what field the expert works in, you need someone who can handle themselves well under cross examination and can maintain their cool under pressure. In addition, you want experts who are relatable and can connect with the jury. An experienced trial lawyer will know which expert will work best for your case.
The value of experts is directly related to their credibility. If your expert is misstating or ignoring facts which help the other side, it can damage both their credibility and your case. This can also be an issue with experts that seem unfamiliar with a case, have charged exorbitantly high fees, or who have testified repeatedly for the same legal team.
Case Study: In 2010, a 22-year-old female died in San Diego County after she lost control of her vehicle on a flooded section of road. The flooding was a known issue, and was not corrected because of a long-lasting battle between the owner of the property alongside the road and the county about who was responsible for correcting the problem. The road kept flooding because of a creek that ran near the road, and would overflow during heavy rain. The creek could have been dredged to prevent the flooding, but there was an endangered frog living in the area. Because of the complications in correcting the problem, nothing was done. Our offices filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the victim’s parents, and the county was found liable. The jury awarded $4 million in damages. [Read the Schultz Case Study]
Case Study: In 1997, Richard Koskoff obtained a $28.9 million verdict against the City of Los Angeles based upon the City’s failure to maintain the center line on a City road, which caused a driver to cross over into opposing traffic and strike the plaintiffs’ car. The two plaintiffs were rendered paraplegics. [Read More]