Not Afraid v. Mumford – Highway Design Liability for Auto Accident Injuries

Roads and highways are supposed to be designed and constructed with great care, and according to accepted industry guidelines. This helps to ensure crashes don’t occur unnecessarily, resulting in injuries to innocent motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. roadcurve

Government entities and sometimes engineering and construction firms can be held liable for poor road design and construction when those factors contribute to auto accidents. Street and highway departments owe a duty to safeguard against any inherently dangerous or unreasonably unsafe condition. Some examples might include:

  • A curve that necessitates but lacks a guardrail;
  • No markings to warn of a sharp, sudden curve;
  • A median barrier on a highway that is not adequate to redirect errant vehicles;
  • A dangerous intersection that is confusing or lacking in necessary traffic signals.

Success in these will depend on a myriad of factors that must be closely analyzed by an experienced injury lawyer.

One such case recently weighed by the Montana Supreme Court was that of Not Afraid v. Mumford, involving a fatal crash along a sharp curve equipped with a concrete barrier.

Plaintiff, a passenger in the vehicle, was seriously injured in the crash and paralyzed from the chest down. Another passenger was killed. The 19-year-old driver, who was also injured, was later found to be speeding and intoxicated when he struck the concrete barriers, resulting in the vehicle careening over a steep hillside. The impact ejected all five occupants of the vehicle.

Driver was later convicted of felony vehicular homicide.

The road was deeded to the county, which installed the concrete barriers roughly 25 years prior to this crash. Later, interest in the road was transferred to the city.

Two years after the crash, prior to the statute of limitations on personal injury actions, plaintiff retained two experts in accident reconstruction to analyze the crash site. They later compiled a four-page report concluding the vehicle was traveling 45-mph in a 25-mph zone. They also ascertained the concrete barriers were tilted at a 15-degree angle. For this reason, the experts opined the barriers had been improperly installed and therefore were ineffective at containing vehicles traveling at a higher speed around the curve.

Plaintiff later filed lawsuits against the city’s public works director, the city itself, and the county and state. He alleged product liability, as well as negligent placement, installation and maintenance of the barriers.

Defendant city retained its own expert traffic accident reconstructionist, who returned with a 16-page report concluding the tilt in the barriers was due to the impact made by this vehicle. Further, the expert asserted the tilt was at about 13 degrees and the vehicle was more likely traveling between 68 and 73 mph.

County sought summary judgment because it no longer had interest in the road. That was granted. Public works director moved for summary judgment on grounds he was immune and couldn’t be held liable for product liability. State moved for summary judgment because it didn’t own, control or maintain the road. City filed for summary judgment asserting plaintiff did not establish a breach of care because he didn’t prove the condition of the barriers at the time of the crash. District court granted all these motions.

Plaintiff appealed.

The Montana Supreme Court affirmed. It noted plaintiff did not offer any evidence that showed the standard of care by which to measure defendant’s actions, including evidence of applicable standards of concrete barriers in that state. He also didn’t present any expert witness testimony as to the standards defendants may have violated with regard to placement, installation or maintenance of the barriers.

These elements were key, and failure to produce that evidence proved a fatal flaw for this case.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Not Afraid v. Mumford, Dec. 1, 2015, Montana Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Fatal Car Accident Lawsuit Filed Against Police Officer, Department and City, Nov. 30, 2015, Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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