All too frequently, motorists are injured or killed due to the poor design and maintenance of a road. A large number of roads, bridges, overpasses, exit ramps, and intersections are in disrepair or need updating to modern standards such as the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The entities that design, construct and maintain our roads may be accountable for any dangerous and defective conditions that cause these serious accidents. Unfortunately, law enforcement officers and even lawyers often fail to consider the design or maintenance of a road when evaluating a motor vehicle accident.
The State of Missouri, or Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission (MHTC), and local municipalities can be held liable for accidents or injuries that occur as a result of dangerous road conditions. Conditions of dangerous roads include:
- lack of guardrails and shoulders;
- improperly located median barriers;
- obstructive telephone poles and utility poles;
- narrow bridges;
- uncovered ditches;
- obstacles in the road;
- poor drainage and water run-off;
- incorrect or inadequate signage;
- rough or unpaved road surface;
- improper grading;
- trees and other foliage blocking stop signs and other roadway signs;
- malfunctioning traffic lights;
- construction site violations; and
- many other negligent traffic design or road defects.
Because these entities are part of the government, they may enjoy special protection. Sovereign immunity, for example, may shield them from liability in tort. See, e.g., Cain v. Missouri Highways and Transp. Com’n, 239 S.W.3d 590 (Mo. 2007). Also, some state laws and city charters require that written notice of claims be given to the mayor or some other officer within a specified period after an injury. See, e.g., Mo. Rev. Stat. 82.210. Accordingly, the plaintiff must plead that his personal injury or wrongful death claim is based on a dangerous condition on public property, such as roads and highways, and invoke the statutory waiver of immunity under Mo. Rev. Stat. 537.600. He must also be prepared to make a determination of whether the property is owned by a municipality and whether written notice needs to be delivered. See, Jones v. City of Kansas City, 15 S.W.3d 736 (Mo. 2000)(holding that the notice requirements do not apply to dangerous conditions of items such as traffic signals).
Actions for damages based on dangerous or defective road conditions require immediate attention. In addition to the pleading and notice requirements discussed, evidence must be collected as soon as possible because the conditions may change naturally or go through subsequent repair. Therefore, it is essential that you contact the right attorneys as soon as possible. At Bautista LeRoy, we have extensive experience investigating and prosecuting cases where people have been injured or killed due to the dangerous or defective roadways. We utilize a team of traffic safety and highway design experts, engineers, surveyors, illumination experts, warning experts and accident reconstruction experts. If you or someone you know was injured or killed as the result of dangerous roads or defective road condition, please contact us.