Suing the government for car accident injuries stemming from failure to address a dangerous intersection can be a challenge. In many cases, the government is going to assert sovereign immunity, likely on the grounds that the decision to fix a problematic intersection was discretionary rather than ministerial.
Governments often have the upper hand with that defense. But not all prevail, and that’s why it’s worth exploring.
A number of recent cases underscore why dangerous intersection lawsuits can prove worthwhile for injured care accident victims in South Carolina.
Let’s start with the $24 million verdict recently handed down by jurors in Los Angeles, CA, where the widow and young son of a scientist sued the city for liability in the traffic accident that killed him three years ago. Attorneys for plaintiffs determined decedent would not have been killed had that intersection been designed properly.
According to the L.A. Times, residents in the region had complained for years about the treacherous blind corner at the intersection, but the city reportedly failed to take any action. As it was designed, drivers on one road waiting to turn left onto another had no choice but to edge out into oncoming traffic to see around the corner. Vehicles parked on the roadway of the cross street, which was on a hill, made it impossible for drivers to see one another from both streets.
A city spokesman called the judgement “outrageous,” and said the city plans to appeal.
Another lawsuit recently filed in Florida alleges a van crash that left eight church members dead was caused by negligence of the Florida Department of Transportation and Better Roads Inc. Officials with the Florida Highway Patrol determined the driver was at-fault, but plaintiffs say the intersection was unsafe and dangerous and lacked basic safety features – such as a visible stop sign or traffic lights. An analysis of crashes at the site between 2009 and 2013 showed a higher-than-usual number at that site compared to similar intersections. Further, about 60 percent of those collisions could have been prevented had those basic safety measures been in place.
Then there is the recent dangerous intersection lawsuit of Turner v. Dept. of Transportation, recently weighed by the Oregon Supreme Court. This personal injury lawsuit arose out of a motor vehicle accident, after which plaintiff accused the state of contributing by negligent failure to correct hazards at the highway intersection.
Defense argued it had sovereign immunity because, although it was aware of dangerous conditions at the intersection, the decision to omit this intersection from improvements in its annual appropriations requests were the result of a budget-driven discretionary policy. Plaintiff argued state DOT workers knew the intersection was dangerous, but avoided making improvements. Trial court granted summary judgment to defense.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed. Defense argued that anytime a state agency has a process for prioritizing and allocating limited resources, the discretionary function immunity should apply, even when there is no particularized decision making. But the appeals court disagreed, and found there was a genuine issue of material fact as to how the state ranked top accident sites, and this could impact whether the discretionary function exception applies.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Turner v. Dept. of Transportation, May 26, 2016, Oregon Supreme Court
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South Carolina Lawsuit: Bar Overserved Motorcyclist, Led to Fatal Accident, May 27, 2016, Rock Hill Car Accident Lawyer Blog