Steep Pavement Edge Drop-Off Cited in Accident Lawsuit Against DOT

The government agencies responsible for road engineering, construction and maintenance owe a duty to drivers to ensure our streets aren’t unreasonably dangerous. That means designing and constructing roads and highways according to accepted industry standards and using good judgment in road maintenance necessary to keep these surfaces safe. highway11

One roadway design hazard that has been identified as cropping up in a number of fatal auto accidents in recent years is pavement drop-off, also known as shoulder edge drop-off. This is a road condition whereby there is uneven pavement or significant elevation change either from one travel lane to another or between a travel lane and an adjacent shoulder.

It’s a condition that is known to be dangerous to all vehicles, but to motorcycles especially, as well as compact vehicles and those pulling trailers. 

Shoulder drop-offs are usually caused when roads are resurfaced but the engineers and/or construction team fail to also raise the height of the shoulder. In some cases, it happens when the road and shoulder are resurfaced but the roadside abutting the shoulder isn’t also raised to the same height. This not only leaves an uneven surface, but it leaves the shoulder unsupported, which leaves it vulnerable to edge cracking and failure. Usually, a drop-off of two inches or more is considered dangerous.

This was the roadway defect allegedly at issue in the wrongful death lawsuit of McFadden v. Dept. of Transp., in which the widow of a motorcyclist alleged the state of Iowa was negligent in maintaining the highway where her husband died.

According to court records, the decedent was negotiating a curve on the highway when he ran over the shoulder edge drop-off and lost control of his bike. The speed of the motorcycle and the impact of the road proved too much, and the man died at the scene.

His widow was appointed as administrator of his estate two months later. As required by state statute, widow first filed a notice of claim with the state appeal board (an administrative process that has to be undertaken before a formal claim can be filed against the government). When she filed the claim, she did not expressly identify herself as the representative of her husband’s estate, though she legally was at that point.

When the appeal board didn’t answer her claim within a year, she withdrew it and filed a civil lawsuit. However, the state sought summary judgment on grounds plaintiff hadn’t yet exhausted all administrative remedies, citing the fact that she didn’t list herself as the administrator of the estate. Trial court granted defense request and appeals court affirmed, citing earlier case law in which a mother – who was not the administrator of her son’s estate but later became so – filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the government. On appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, justices reversed. While procedures do have to be followed, the court stated that, “rights must not be denied by too strict an application of mere legal formality.”

Now, her claim of negligent highway maintenance against the state department of transportation may proceed to trial.

The AAA Foundation for traffic safety reminds drivers that if they do encounter a sudden drop-off either from lane-to-lane or lane-to-shoulder, they risk tire scrubbing and overcorrecting if they try to immediately steer back into their lane. Instead, drivers should consider these tips to avoid injury or death.

Although pavement drop-off isn’t cited in a huge number of crashes, but it is cited in a disproportionate number of fatal crashes. If you or a loved one has been affected by this road defect while driving, call us today to learn more about how we can help.

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

Additional Resources:

McFadden v. Dept. of Transp., Jan. 22, 2016, Iowa Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Report: South Carolina Roads Were Deadly in 2015, Jan. 22, 2016, Rock Hill Accident Lawyer Blog


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