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Who Is Responsible When a Pothole Causes an Accident?

Posted in Personal Injury on August 14, 2019

A pothole is a common roadway defect that occurs when the groundwater beneath the road contracts and expands in different seasons. Over time, this natural phenomenon can cause the pavement to crack, break and crumble – forming holes in the road that can be dangerous to drivers. Striking a pothole with a car, motorcycle or bicycle could cause a serious motor vehicle accident, including a rollover or tire blowout. In these accident cases, the city or state may be legally responsible for victims’ damages, depending on the circumstances.

Government Liability for Pothole Accidents

Sovereign immunity is a long-standing law that protects the government from liability. Most states, however, have passed tort claims acts that provide exceptions to the sovereign immunity rule. The California Tort Claims Act allows accident victims to bring claims against government entities if the agency or one of its employees negligently caused the accident. You may be able to file a claim against your city or state government if the entity contributed to your pothole accident through some act of negligence or carelessness.

  • Failing to regularly inspect public roadways for defects
  • Ignoring known dangerous roadway conditions
  • Failing to respond promptly to pothole complaints
  • Leaving a pothole for an unreasonable amount of time
  • Failing to post warning signs about a known hazard
  • Patching a pothole with low-quality asphalt
  • Creating a dangerous construction zone while making road repairs

The entity in charge of roadway maintenance has a legal obligation to ensure safe roads. Negligence exposes the government to legal responsibility for related accidents and injuries. You or your attorney may be able to prove government negligence by establishing that the city or state reasonably should have known about the pothole and done something in time to prevent accidents. If a prudent city manager would have repaired the pothole before the accident, the city may be liable for damages.

How To Bring a Claim Against the Government in California

If you believe the city or state is responsible for your pothole accident, hire an attorney to help you go up against the government. These claims can be difficult to win. First, you or your lawyer must file written notice of your intent to file a lawsuit with the government agency in question. The county or city in charge of roadway maintenance will be the party that receives your claim. Your lawyer must file this notice within the statute of limitations – six months of the date of your car accident if your case involves a personal injury, wrongful death or property damage.

Once the agency receives your notice, it will have the chance to resolve the issue with you in the form of a settlement, or else deny liability for the pothole accident. If it chooses to settle, it will negotiate a fair amount with your attorney. Your lawyer can ask for an amount that will reasonably cover your accident-related hospital expenses, lost wages, property repairs and several other damages. Your claim could be worth $10,000 or more depending on the severity of the accident. If a pothole caused your car to flip and you suffered catastrophic injuries, for example, your case could be worth a significant amount with help from an attorney.

If the government refuses to offer a reasonable settlement, your lawyer can take the defendant to court in California. A personal injury trial can take longer to resolve than a settlement, but it could end in a better compensation award for you as a victim. Your attorney has two years from the date of the car accident to file a lawsuit in California. Holding the government responsible for a pothole during a court trial will take demonstrating proof of negligence. Your lawyer may be able to gather evidence such as ignored pothole complaints or photographs of the damaged roadway as proof against the government. Using a lawyer to represent your case can strengthen your odds of success.

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