You can seek full compensation when you’re injured in an accident caused by poor road conditions. But, you have to act fast. Here’s what you need to know.
All over the United States, road conditions contribute to the frequency and severity of motor vehicle accidents. Almost of third of all motor vehicle crashes are related to poor road conditions, resulting in more than two million injuries and 22,000 fatalities.¹
Although state and federal laws require cities, towns, villages, and counties to design, build, and maintain safe roads and highways, it’s virtually impossible to ensure every road and highway is completely safe.
When you’re injured in an accident caused by poor road conditions, you’ll want help to pay for your medical treatment, related expenses, and lost wages.
Here’s what you need to know about pursuing compensation from agencies responsible for road safety.
Dangerously Poor Road Conditions
While most accidents are caused by speeding, distracted driving, and drunk drivers, poor road quality and conditions are a significant factor in many accidents.
In other words, even if poor road conditions aren’t the only cause of the accident, they likely made it much worse.
Common road conditions that contribute to car accidents:
- Damaged, missing, or hidden road signs
- Potholes and cracks in the road surface
- Lack of rumble strips on highways
- Missing or inadequate guardrails
- Faded paint markings, like the center line or road edge markings
- Road shoulder drop-off
- Road debris
- Poor traffic management around construction zones
- Untreated roads in winter weather
Example of poor road conditions contributing to an accident:
Mark was driving east on Chestnut Street, heading home from work. Mindy was driving west on Chestnut Street, on her way to meet a friend at the mall.
Mindy was texting her friend to suggest they meet at the food court when her right front tire hit a pothole, jerking the steering wheel and startling Mindy.
Mindy frantically over-corrected, sharply steering her car to the left, into oncoming traffic.
Mindy’s abrupt maneuver gave Mark no time to avoid the crash, as the two cars collided head-on. Mark suffered multiple broken bones, internal bleeding, and traumatic brain injuries.
Mindy was to blame for texting while driving. However, the pothole caused Mindy to lose control of her car.
Mark has grounds to pursue compensation from the at-fault driver and the agency responsible for maintaining Chestnut Street.
Protect Your Claim from the Start
Whether you’re in a single-vehicle accident caused by poor road conditions or a multi-vehicle crash, knowing what to do from the start will help build a strong injury claim.
Call 911 to report the accident and ask for help. Tell the dispatcher you are injured and if you know of any other injured persons. Give your location and describe any nearby landmarks. The dispatcher will need to know of any dangers on the scene or traffic problems.
Medical care is critical to your injury claim. Don’t say you’re “fine” and don’t refuse medical treatment at the scene. If you aren’t taken straight to the hospital, get a medical evaluation right away. See your primary doctor, go to the hospital emergency room, or visit your local urgent care center.
Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident will undermine your claim. The insurance company will jump at the chance to dismiss your claim, arguing that your injuries aren’t related to the accident.
Don’t give up if your claim is denied. Speak with a personal injury attorney to discuss your compensation options.
Talk to witnesses. Witness statements can be powerful evidence of fault. Talk to people who saw the accident and how the road hazard caused the crash. Gather witness names and contact information. If a witness is willing to write down what they saw, ask them to sign and date their written statement.
Take pictures and videos. Some of the best evidence is photographic evidence. Pictures don’t lie. Take as many pictures as possible, from as many angles as you safely can. You can’t take too many pictures of the poor road condition that caused your crash. If another car was involved, get pictures of the vehicles and the surrounding area.
Use a date-stamp option if you can. Be sure your photographs include proof of where the accident happened. You’ll also need to prove the location of that pothole, or other hazard at the time of the crash. The dangerous condition that caused your accident may be repaired long before your injury claim is settled.
Exchange information with the other driver, if another car is involved in the accident. Ask for the driver’s name, contact information, and insurance information. Write down the make, model, and year of the car.
Be prepared with our free Car Accident Information Form. Keep a copy with a pen in your car where you keep your proof of insurance.
Continue to Gather Evidence
Medical documentation is vital to your claim. Maintain copies of your medical bills and records, keep receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, and track mileage to medical appointments. Your treatment records will connect your injuries to the accident. Your medical bills and related expenses are used to calculate your settlement demand amount.
Lost wages and missed opportunities for overtime can be proven with a written wage statement from your employer.
Notes and records are important for your claim. Write detailed notes about the accident and how it happened. Save copies of all correspondence regarding the accident. Keep a diary of your medical treatment, pain levels, and daily challenges while coping with the aftermath of the wreck.
Survey records: Government agencies conduct regular surveys to identify poor road conditions. It will help your claim if you can prove your accident was caused by a known hazard that should have been fixed. Contact your county commissioner’s office or state Department of Transportation (DOT) to locate the survey records you’ll need.
Where to Seek Injury Compensation
Every car accident scenario is unique, and there may be more than one avenue open to you for injury compensation.
Your auto insurance company: Always notify your insurance company after an accident, even if the accident isn’t your fault. Most policies have contract language called a “notice clause” that says you agree to notify the company of any accidents, and that you agree to cooperate with the insurance company’s investigation into the crash.
The notice clause language will be like this:
“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”
If your policy originated in a no-fault insurance state, your medical bills would be paid by your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. PIP pays the medical bills, and sometimes lost wages, for you and your passengers no matter who caused the accident. PIP does not cover pain and suffering.
Aside from PIP, outside of no-fault states many policies have elective medical coverage that will help pay your medical expenses.
The at-fault driver’s insurance company: When you’re injured in an accident caused by a negligent driver, even if poor road conditions contributed to the crash, you’ll need to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Before the other driver’s insurance company pays, you’ll have to prove:
- The driver was negligent,
- The driver’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the accident
- The accident caused your damages
- The driver is responsible for paying for your damages
The evidence you collected at the scene and afterward will help prove your claim.
Negligent third party: When the hazardous road condition that caused your injury was caused by the negligence of a third party, who was not part of a government agency, you may be able to also to seek compensation for your damages from that party.
For example, let’s say you were injured because your car slammed into a tree after sliding on a big patch of loose gravel covering the road. If the gravel was spilled by dump trucks traveling in and out of a nearby construction site during the past week, you might have grounds for a claim against the construction company.
Government agencies: The road with the hazardous condition may be under the jurisdiction of a city, county, or state government. A smaller number of roadways, such as interstate highways, fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
For more information, read our page on Filing Personal Injury Claims Against the Government.
Filing Government Compensation Claims
A successful injury claim against any government agency must prove five things:
- The agency is responsible for the road where your accident occurred
- The road was in poor condition at the time of the accident
- The hazardous road condition caused the accident
- The agency knew or should have known that the poor road conditions could cause an accident
- The agency failed to correct the poor road conditions in a reasonable time frame
Beware the Statute of Limitations
Unlike injury claims against private individuals, where the statute of limitations for filing a claim is two to five years, the statutory period for filing a claim against the government can be six months or less.
Make sure you check the filing period that applies to your claim.
Failing to file your claim before the government deadline means you’ll lose your chance to pursue compensation from the agency, no matter how badly you’ve been hurt.
Do Some Legal Research
Go to the federal courthouse and look up lawsuits filed against the Federal Highway Administration and the Department of Transportation. Look for lawsuits specifically related to road quality and conditions at the location of your accident.
Go to the county clerk’s office and look up lawsuits filed against the individual state or local government agencies, and private contracting firms over the design, construction, or maintenance of the roadway. In those lawsuits, look for fact patterns similar to yours, similar accidents, evidence the plaintiffs used, and the amount of compensation.
Contact your state attorney general’s office, and request copies of advisory opinions the office issued to state and local government agencies over road design and defects.
Get online and research the many articles dealing with lawsuits against the government. You can gradually narrow your search to notices of claims, administrative hearings, and lawsuits over roadway defects.
Remember, you have the right to hire a personal injury attorney to manage your injury claim against the government. Your attorney will know how to file your claim, demand fair compensation, and prepare a lawsuit if needed.
Filing Your Notice of Claim
If you plan to take on the government, you begin by filing a Notice of Claim. You must use the correct claim form used by the government agency at fault for your injuries.
A notice of claim formally tells the government agency you’re filing a civil claim against them. You must file a separate notice of claim against each government agency responsible for the roadway.
The claim form must be filled out completely and correctly. An incomplete form will be rejected, so it’s important to get it right the first time.
The notice of claim form will require details about the accident, including the date, time and location of the accident, and a detailed explanation of the design, construction, or maintenance fault that caused the accident.
Your claim must list your damages and contain enough detail to prove the agency’s negligence was the cause of your injuries.
Once you file your notice of claim, a government attorney usually reviews it. The attorney may reject your claim or schedule an administrative hearing where you can present your case.
If your claim is denied at the administrative hearing, you can file an administrative appeal.
If you lose the appeal, your final option is to file a lawsuit against the government agency responsible for your injuries.
When You Need an Attorney
If you have enough PIP or med-pay coverage to pay all your medical expenses, you may not need to look further than your auto policy for compensation. It’s probably not worth your time or the expense of an attorney to seek additional compensation, even if your accident was caused by poor road conditions.
On the other hand, severe personal injuries are high-dollar claims. If you don’t have enough medical coverage on your auto policy, you could rely on your health care coverage, but then you’re stuck with high deductibles and co-pays.
Severe personal injuries require significant compensation. If you’ve suffered hard injuries like broken bones, closed head injuries, internal bleeding, spinal cord injuries, or other life-altering injuries, you’ll need an attorney to get adequate compensation for your claim.
A skilled personal injury attorney helps you seek full compensation from:
- At-fault drivers, even when poor road conditions complicate the issue of liability
- Negligent third-parties who created hazardous road conditions
- Government agencies responsible for road repair and maintenance
Your attorney will pursue every available source of compensation, even if more than one person or agency is responsible for your injuries.
If you’ve been seriously injured in an accident caused by poor road conditions, time is running out. Don’t forfeit your chance at fair compensation.
Act now. It costs nothing to find out what a good attorney can do for you.
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