It is commonly known that, since the government makes the rules, it can be difficult to prove government negligence in any situation. Even in a case that seems clear-cut such as road conditions, there are ways in which the state or local government can avoid accident liability and prevent you from getting the compensation you need to take care of any vehicle damage or personal injuries.
Suing The Government For Road Conditions
Attempting to prove negligence on the part of the government in an automobile accident is much different than with a private individual. In most states, a victim has at least a year (possibly more) to file a lawsuit against a private entity that may have been negligent in causing an auto accident. However, government negligence is very different, and the rules for suing the government over road conditions are not the same as they are for private individuals or companies.
In the state of New York, anyone who is seeking to have the state pay for damages to their vehicle due to bad roads has 90 days to file a notice that they intend to proceed with a complaint. The state can settle any kind of case under $5,000 if it chooses to do so, but any claim that is more than $5,000 must go to trial. If you miss the 90-day window, then you can never file a claim. On the other hand, if the state does not acknowledge your claim, then you would have a problem getting approved for a settlement as well.
The state of New York also strongly urges anyone who is considering filing a claim to get an attorney before they take any action. If the government is recommending that you get an attorney to file an accident liability claim, then it can be assumed that you are in for a tough fight.
When Is The Government Liable?
In order for there to be government negligence, there must be an adequate amount of time for the government to be notified of a problem. That window of time can vary considerably, and even large amounts of time do not necessarily favor the plaintiff.
In 2015, a stretch of road near Buckley, Michigan claimed the life of a couple who was driving their motorcycle as per the state laws. The attorney for the family of the couple states that the road is designed in such a way that it is difficult for traffic to avoid each other, and that this particular design flaw has resulted in other fatal accidents.
The attorney for the family has stated that the state of Michigan has known about the design flaw in this road for “probably 25 years now.” There were complaints made, but the state had not taken any action. The fatalities as a result of the accident have brought attention to that stretch of the road, but it has not yet provided enough evidence to prove government negligence. The family of the victims hopes the court case will change things, but the government maintains that it is not responsible for the deaths of the couple.
The state and local governments can be liable in road cases that involve:
- Road construction
- Poorly designed roads
- Improper road signs
- A documented history of bad road conditions
The issue is proving that the government knew of the existing problems, and had enough time and information to do something about it. When there is a fatal accident on a stretch of road known for its dangerous design, then that can help to point some of the accident liability at the government agency responsible for road design and maintenance. It should be noted that this is still a difficult task to get a government agency to accept responsibility for its own road design and maintenance negligence.
How Sovereign Immunity Is Involved
The state of New York has created a waiver of immunity that helps it to put a cap on awards from lawsuits, and also helps it to avoid lawsuits altogether in certain instances. Sovereign immunity is a principle that allows state governments to avoid accident liability, even in clear-cut cases of government negligence. Since the states determine the process for seeking judgments in these types of cases, the states can also see to it that they cannot be sued for certain types of situations.
The idea of sovereign immunity differs from state to state, and it can even differ from case to case. In some types of personal injury cases, sovereign immunity could mean that your case against the government for poor road conditions gets thrown out of court completely. The possibility that your case could get dismissed due to a situation like sovereign immunity is just one reason why you need a good attorney to represent your side.
Comparative negligence is the idea that both parties share some of the blame and any financial compensation should reflect that blame. Your local town might argue that, even though the road you were driving on was icy, you should have exercised more caution and you are partly to blame for what has happened.
If the courts determine that you are in any way partially negligent for what occurred, then your compensation will be cut by that amount. For example, if the courts determine that 50 percent of the fault for your road accident lies with your actions, then you would only get 50 percent of any settlement that may be awarded.
What Should You Do If You Are In An Accident?
If you are involved in an auto accident and you believe there is some sort of government negligence involved, then your first step needs to be to hire a good attorney with experience in these areas. You should take plenty of pictures of the scene of the accident, and try to collect a list of witnesses you can call on later if your case goes to court.
Time is of the essence when it comes to holding the government liable for bad road conditions, and time is not on your side. You need to work with your attorney to collect all of the information your attorney needs just to be able to notify the state of your intent to file a claim before the deadline runs out. If your intent to file a claim is accepted in time, then you still have a looming deadline to meet to actually file your lawsuit.
Government negligence has been found to be at the source of auto accidents around the country. The problem with trying to sue a government agency for road conditions is that each state government has set up its own series of barriers that make filing a claim extremely difficult. Even if you succeed in filing a claim, the state government could throw your claim out based on sovereign immunity and you would come away with nothing.
If your intent is to try and file a claim for road conditions, then act quickly and be thorough with all of your information. But even if you win a settlement, you should be prepared to have to accept an award that falls well short of covering the costs you have incurred due to government negligence and bad road conditions.