You might be wondering if you can bring legal action against the government if you have suffered an injury due to dangerous road conditions in California. The answer is yes. Nevertheless, there are specific factors you need to put into consideration when filing your claim. Our lawyers at The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm can look at your case's details and provide insight on what steps will increase your chances of a successful claim. In this article, we will discuss what you should know about filing a personal injury claim caused by a dangerous road condition.
A Summary of Dangerous Road Conditions Claims
Most drivers have been there, cruising along a highway or a road when one of the vehicle's tires hits a pothole. Sometimes, this results in a car accident, and if it does, who is legally liable?
The state, federal, county, or city government is responsible for maintaining roads that are under their jurisdiction. Under the theory of liability, the government authority should be held accountable. Therefore, you are entitled to receive compensation if you suffer injuries or any other damages because the government failed to keep the road safe.
How Does the Responsible Government Agency Know About Dangerous Road Conditions?
Like most states, California has laws that allow the government reasonable duration to know about dangerous road conditions as well as a reasonable amount of time to repair the road. The reasonable amount of time depends mainly on the circumstances and facts of every case.
Typically, government authorities learn about dangerous conditions through:
- Reports from residents who have seen the dangerous conditions,
- Roadways regular maintenance, and
- Regular road surveys conducted.
What Happens in Case the Government Does Not Discover Dangerous Road Conditions?
Sometimes the liable government entity will claim that it had not discovered the road condition. In this case, the body will still be held responsible, provided the state of the road ought to have been known within a reasonable time.
For instance, the government cannot be held liable for injuries if a victim ran over a pothole that snowplow caused the previous day. However, if the unsafe condition had been there for a longer period, and the governmental agency should have learned about it in that duration, the entity could be accountable for the accident even when it didn't know the condition existed.
Different Types of Road Conditions You Can Sue the Government For
Assume a government hasn't been practical in either discovering or repairing a dangerous condition, it may be accountable for injuries due to:
- Potholes or cracks on the roadway that make you lose control of the vehicle
- Road signs which have fallen or covered by vegetation
- Challenges with rails on overpasses, ditches, or sharp curves
- Damaged overpasses or bridges
- Failing to take in rumble strips on the road
- Absence of appropriate warning signs
- Unsafe curves
- Poor road signs or road lighting
- Faulty stop lights at an intersection
- Blocked drainage leading to road flooding
- Insufficient control of traffic in construction areas (proper cones and marking)
Unsafe road conditions could be due to wear and tear, an act of nature, or negligence. The government could also be accountable for car accident injuries if the road condition is due to:
- Poor planning or design of the road
- Failure to repair and maintain the road
- Poor construction like using cheap materials while constructing bridges or roads
Understanding Sovereign Immunity
The California Tort Claims Act (CTCA) is the law that protects the government from liability in some personal injury claims. In other words, there are federal or state government entities that have immunity from civil lawsuits. Also, a private party cannot bring legal action against the government entities. It is known as governmental immunity when the immunity applies to a county, city, or any other government agency.
Sovereign immunity is a legal concept created in England many centuries ago that protected the king from being sued. Today, several states have adopted the idea in several forms to protect public agencies from claims for injuries the entity or their employees have caused.
Exemptions to Sovereign Immunity
Many government entities have exceptions that permit private parties to sue them under certain circumstances. One of these exceptions is failing to maintain roads negligently, as previously discussed.
Sometimes suing the government will need a finding of gross negligence before overcoming the sovereign immunity principle. Your attorney should help you determine whether a government sovereign immunity exists as well as whether an exemption applies.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim Against a Government Authority
To bring your personal injury claim, you need to first consult with a lawyer who is well-versed with dangerous road condition claims. When booking your initial consultation, you need to gather and keep relevant information such as:
- The location of the dangerous condition
- The name of the road where the car accident occurred
- The direction you were going
- Names and contact information of all witnesses
- Physical features of the unsafe road condition like width, length, and depth
- Any other records like medical expenses, tickets, car repair costs, and police reports
It is also essential to take pictures of the scene of the car accident and any proof of the crash like other cars involved, the location of the car accident, and physical injuries.
Once your personal injury attorney determines that you have a claim, you should find out who is liable for your injuries. It hinges on the case's fact. However, the ultimate answer hinges on the government agency tasked with the maintenance of the road on which the accident occurred.
Your attorney should be able to tell this by conducting an investigation. Additionally, they can do this by contacting the local county commissioner's office. If the commissioner's office is not accountable, they will most likely tell you who is liable.
The next step is issuing the liable government entity with a notice of the claim. It entails sending a letter or bringing a report that could suffice as notice provided it has all the required requirements. Nevertheless, most government agencies have forms that should be filled to offer them as a notice of your claim.
Your attorney should make sure you meet the requirements as well as bring your claim within the right time limit. Bringing your claim late or failing to bring the claim properly could result in claim denial.
Your claim should include the information below:
- Your name as well as postal address
- The post address which you want the notice to be submitted
- An overview of the injury, responsibility, indebtedness, and the total loss incurred
- The location, date, and circumstances of the car accident
- The amount you are claiming provided it does not exceed $10,000 as on the date the claim is presented. Make sure you include the projected amount of the damage, injury, loss incurred, and the computation of the total amount requested. If the total amount sought is more than $10,000, you should not include any dollar amount in your claim. Instead, you should indicate whether your claim is a limited case or not.
A limited case can be defined as a civil case where you are claiming less than twenty-five thousand dollars, excluding costs and attorney fees.
It is essential to discuss the case with your lawyer before bringing the claim. Most plaintiffs under-value cases or fail to include all the damages. Even a minor injury may need ongoing medical care or follow-up attention. Failing to seek enough compensation for the injuries may leave you incurring costs for an accident that you did not cause.
Do You Have to Bring A Lawsuit If You File a Personal Injury Claim?
In case you bring a notice of a personal injury claim, you don't have to bring a lawsuit immediately. By bringing a claim, you leave open the opportunity to bring a lawsuit later. Nevertheless, you are not required to bring the lawsuit should the government entity agrees to compensate you.
Statute of Limitations
The (CTCA) California Tort Claims Act outlines stringent guidelines for bringing a personal injury claim against government agencies or entities. Failure to adhere to these guidelines could lead to dismissal of your claim. That means an otherwise viable claim for which you could be awarded damages can be canceled for being filed after the deadline.
A personal injury claim against a government authority has a shorter deadline compared to a lawsuit against private business and party. You should bring your notice within six (6) months from the accident date. In rare circumstances, the 6-month timeframe may not start until you learn or ought to have learned about your injury.
Can You Bring a Late Personal Injury Claim?
Generally, late personal injury claims without valid reasons are denied. Nevertheless, a late personal injury claim can sometimes be accepted if you bring your claim together with an application for late filing. Common qualifying reasons for filing a late claim include:
- Excusable neglect, surprise, inadvertence, or mistake
- The plaintiff is a minor below eighteen years of age during the whole statute of limitations period
- Physical or mental incapacity
- Death of the plaintiff
What to Do After Filing a Claim Against a Government Agency
Although there are several ways in which government entities handle the personal injury claim process, discussed below is what you should expect from the process:
Contact by a Government Claim Adjuster
Immediately after filing your claim, a government claim adjuster will contact you. The adjuster could be working for the liable government entity, the state, city, or county attorney's office. Sometimes the adjuster could be from the government agency's insurance provider.
In either case, deal with the adjuster the same way you would deal with an insurance adjuster representing an individual or private business. Do this until you're ready to send your formal demand for settlement and start negotiations. Make sure you give only the necessary information.
Notice of Insufficiency
One of the things that will take place after filing your injury claim is receiving a letter from the government entity telling you that the injury claim is not sufficient. It could be because the notice of claim did not include information like the location and the date of the accident.
It is essential to understand that getting a notice of insufficiency doesn't mean your injury claim has been denied. Instead, it means that you should provide the missing details in writing before the statute of limitations passes. That is why it is essential to file your claim as soon as possible.
What Takes Place After Filing Your Claim
After your personal injury claim has been filed, the government entity has forty-five days to take action or respond. The duration can be extended, depending on:
- Whether the claim was mailed, and
- Where the personal injury claim is mailed from.
Generally, there are five possible results after filing your claim. They include:
- The public entity did not respond within the required timeframe. That means your claim is considered rejected.
- The agency can also approve your claim either in part or whole. The agency can provide a negotiation to your claim, that comprises of the entire case's settlement
- The agency can reject your claim
- The agency can claim that your claim doesn't have enough details. The claim may be revised within the timeframe set by the law to complete the missing details.
- The public agency can return your claim for being untimely
What to Do If Your Claim is Denied
If your claim is denied, you can file a lawsuit against the entity in a state court. You should file your petition with the Superior Court requesting your claim's requirements to be withdrawn.
If the government rejected your original personal injury claim in part or in whole using form of notice from the entity, you have six (6) months to bring your petition with a court of law. And if the government agency rejected your claim by failing to give a reply to your notice, you have two (2) years from the rejection date to file your petition.
What Happens When the Court Grants Your Petition?
Should the court grant your petition to go ahead without claim requirements, you should bring your lawsuit within thirty days. Failing to bring the suit within the thirty-day window can lead to the inability to bring your lawsuit.
What to Do When the Court Denies Your Petition
The order denying your petition can be appealed should the court dismiss the petition to go ahead without your claim requirement. An experienced personal injury lawyer should be able to file your appeal for you. If the appeal is successful, you can file a case against the public entity.
Other Liable Parties in DangerousRoad Conditions
Depending on your case's facts, other liable parties may include:
- A truck that spilled oil on the road leading you to slide
- Defective stop light's manufacturer
- The firm that made the faulty asphalt on the road
- A construction firm working on the road
Generally, a government entity will only be accountable, as previously discussed. Car accident injuries, on the other hand, caused by another person, could be deemed as a standard personal injury claim. Your personal injury lawyer will know who ought to be sued in your claim.
How to Bring Legal Action Against a Contractor Working for a Government Agency
In most road construction projects, government entities engage contractors or subcontractors to repair the road. If it's the contractor's poor workmanship that caused the accident, the contractor, together with the government, will be held accountable for the injury.
To tell who the contractor is and the responsibility they have on your accident, your attorney will subpoena the entity's records. With proper discovery and research, the lawyer will make sure all responsible parties are named in the claim and sued.
What Happens if You are Partially Liable for Your Car Accident Injuries?
Sometimes the government agency may argue that you are at fault for causing the auto accident that forms the basis of your personal injury lawsuit. If you are partially accountable, this could affect the compensation amount you will receive from the government.
California follows a pure comparative negligence rule. That means your total compensation amount will be reduced by an amount equivalent to your percentage of liability.
How to Prove the Dangerous Road Conditions Caused Your Injuries
In your personal injury claim, you should prove that the government entity was supposed to maintain the road but was negligent. Moreover, you must establish that the road conditions damaged your vehicle or caused the injuries. There are instances your injuries will not manifest immediately. Therefore, making it hard to trace the damage's cause.
To prove what led to the car accident, you can present the following information before the judge:
- Witness reports- These are the eye witness accounts of what took place
- Police Report- Typically, the police will respond to the accident after receiving a call from you or bystanders. The report will outline the auto accident facts, police observation, and the police officer's opinion on what caused the car accident.
- A Testimony- You will also testify on your behalf. In your testimony, make sure you tell the judge exactly what occurred.
- Accident Pictures- Another paramount way to prove liability is using photos of the car accident scene, your injuries, damage to the vehicle, and the road condition that caused the road accident.
- Survey Record- Like previously mentioned, the government regularly conducts periodic surveys on roads. A survey record will assist you in knowing if the responsible government authority knew or ought to have known about the condition.
- Medical Records- Make sure you obtain and keep copies of your hospital bills, projected future medical expenses, and rehabilitation expenses.
- Car Repair Cost- Car repair cost includes records of all replacement or repair costs related to your car's damage that is due to the dangerous road conditions.
Finally, you need to prove that the accountable government agency:
- Was aware of the road condition but failed to act
- Did not repair the unsafe condition in a reasonable time
- Didn't learn about the dangerous condition in a reasonable time
- Even if the government is at-fault, it will not accept the blame.
Consequently, it will try to prove that something else apart from the road condition caused your injuries. The government could claim that:
- You were operating the vehicle recklessly
- You were driving while drunk
- The accident was due to distracted driving like texting on your phone or tending to your baby
- A recent or sudden act of nature
- Another motorist's negligence
Moreover, the government could claim that it did not know about the condition of the road or it hasn't been given enough time to repair the road.
Damages Awarded in Dangerous Road Conditions Claims
Damages awarded in a personal injury claim in California are meant to make you whole following the dangerous road condition accident. In other words, the objective is to restore you to where you were before the car accident.
Compensatory damages can be either be economic or non-economic.
Economic damages are damages whose dollar amount can be attached with ease. They compensate for the money you have already spent or will spend in the future as a result of the car accident. They include:
- Medical expenses- You are entitled to compensation if you should go through medical testing or receive medical attention like a hospital stay, physical therapy, or use of an ambulance. These damages also take in all expenses you will pay throughout your treatment.
- Lost wages- Lost of income compensation includes payment of work that you missed as a result of the injury. You can be compensated if you are unable to take sick time or go on a vacation. It also applies if the injuries have lowered your ability to work, even if it is for some time.
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are damages that don't entail out-of-pocket bills. They include:
- Emotional distress
- Loss of life enjoyment
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
Get Legal Representation in Filing a Personal Injury Claim Near Me
If your injury happened on a dangerous road condition in California, you should seek legal representation as soon as possible. Most likely, you will not have enough time to file a claim against the responsible government entity. Also, you will be required to follow strict guidelines. At The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, our legal team can analyze your case on merits as well as stand with you throughout the legal process. Do not allow the fear of the government to stand in your way of seeking justice. Call us at 619-625-8707 today for your initial consultation.