Driver error is the No. 1 cause of auto accidents in South Carolina. However, there are some cases in which a feature of the road – something poorly designed or a hazard for which there is no warning – is the cause.
In these situations, it is appropriate to find out which entity owns the roadway (i.e., state, county, city, etc.) and whether it may have been improperly designed, built or maintained. Of course, anytime litigation involves a government agency, the process is going to be more arduous. There are stringent notification requirements, on top of the need to overcome assertions of sovereign immunity.
Still, it’s often worthwhile to pursue action, especially if the property damage and extent of injuries involved were extensive. This was the case in Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transp., recently weighed by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
According to court records, a married couple was traveling along a highway when they drove over a bridge that had recently undergone repairs. Both lanes were open and there was no warning sign or other indication to alert motorists to any ongoing repairs or dangerous condition.
As they crossed the bridge, two crisscrossing metal plates caught on the undercarriage of their vehicle. This caused the car to spin out-of-control and finally, come to rest facing south in the northbound lane. They suffered injuries. Their daughter-in-law arrived shortly thereafter and they were taking to a local hospital by ambulance.
Daughter-in-law would later testify that while at the scene, she talked to two state department of transportation employees who told her the agency had earlier that day received a call alerting them to the metal plates. They advised her to take pictures of the plates in the road that were bent, as well as others that were not. (You typically can’t expect this kind of sage advice from workers at the very agency that may be held accountable for it, but those photographs later became central to this case and subsequent appeals.)
The transportation department would later explain that flat metal plates are bolted to a bridge deck anytime structural repairs are being made to temporarily cover fresh concrete while it cures. The bolt head and steel plate aren’t supposed to rise any higher than two inches above the bridge deck.
The injured couple, who later filed this auto accident lawsuit, would later allege these bent metal plates weren’t properly attached to the bridge, causing them to bend upward and create a dangerous road condition. A bridge crew superintendent later testified in a deposition that the plates should not have been situated crossing each other.
In the complaint, plaintiffs alleged the road work contractor and the state acted with negligence with bridge repairs and also for failing to warn of a dangerous condition.
Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing they were entitled to sovereign immunity because bridge maintenance is a discretionary function of the state law. With regard to failure to warn, trial court found there was no evidence to infer either the state nor the work crew knew or should have known the repair was dangerous.
An appellate court reversed with regard to the negligent repair claim, finding bridge repair to be a ministerial function and that plaintiff had raised sufficient question of fact as to whether defendants had breached their duty of care. However, they affirmed with regard to the failure to warn, finding no admissible facts as to the department’s notice of a dangerous condition. Justices determined an affidavit from the daughter-in-law was inadmissible and there was no indication the workers who spoke to her on the matter were authorized to do so, and thus, this was inadmissible hearsay.
The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed with regard to appellate decision on the negligent bridge repair claim, but reversed on the failure to warn claim. The court found daughter-in-law’s statements were not inadmissible hearsay because existing tort rules don’t require employees of defendant to be authorized to make certain statements in order for them to be admissible.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transp., Sept. 10, 2015, Mississippi Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
JAMA: Bicycle Injuries Double in Last 15 Years, Sept. 9, 2015, Greenville Traffic Collision Attorney