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Who is Liable for Damages When a Car Accident is Caused by Road Debris?

Potholes. Debris in the road. Forgotten traffic cones and signs. Large pieces of furniture that were dumped by third parties but ignored by the state. There is no telling what you are going to run into when you are driving along the highway or interstate, which means that you may have very little, if any, time to prepare when you do happen upon an obstacle in the road. When an accident is caused by road debris or road imperfections, it can be frustrating. Now not only do you have to deal with the logistics of an insurance claim, but you also are not quite sure who the liable party is. Is it the government, for failing to clean up the roads? Is it a third party, such as a negligent construction crew or the guy who left his old mattress? Or is it you, for failing to pay attention?

At Heiting & Irwin, we want to answer all of your questions, and we can address them if we are aware of all of the circumstances surrounding your case (it is helpful if we have evidence in the form of pictures, police reports, and eyewitness testimony). While this article is intended to shine light on how these types of claims are treated, the best thing you can do for your case is to reach out to our knowledgeable Riverside car accident attorneys for help.

Who is Responsible for Road Cleanup?

According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, 97% of all roads and streets in the United States are under the jurisdiction of state and local governments, and only 130,000 miles (of over four million miles) of roadway are under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Roads that are under federal jurisdiction generally include those on Indian reservations, national parks, and military land. The remainder of roads are “privately” owned. “Cleanup duty” falls eventually to whoever’s jurisdiction a road falls under—local, state, or federal government or private third party—but that does not necessarily mean that they are liable for any accident caused by the roadway’s condition.

Liability Comes Down to Negligence

All personal injury claims rely on proving four elements:

  • Duty of Care;
  • Breach of Duty (Negligence);
  • Causation; and
  • Damages

It is point two that is the most difficult to prove, but it is also the point upon which your case largely hinges.

In order to prevail on your claim of negligence after an accident caused by a road hazard or debris, you must be able to prove that the road hazard or debris was there because someone else breached a duty of care that was owed to you. The negligent party could come down to the private owner(s) or government for failing to maintain the roads (requires opportunity to know about the hazard and opportunity to clean it up or fix it), a private entity such as a construction company for failing to adequately mark road hazards or failing to properly clean up after they left the construction zone, a trucking company for failing to properly secure a load, or the person or entity causing the hazard.

Filing a Claim Against the Government

For example, if a pothole or debris that was seen but ignored was the cause of your accident, you may have a claim against the government. However, filing a claim against the government—no matter which government—is difficult, as most are protected either by special provisions and even sovereign immunity, special stipulations, or both. Claims against the government rarely ever work like claims against a third party, further compounding the already complex legal process. For instance, the time limits (statute of limitations) for filing a claim against the California state government is six months, as opposed to the normal two years. Additionally, a claim does not usually lie against any one employee of the government; rather, they must be filed against the entity for which the negligent individual works.

For a comprehensive understanding of what requirements you must meet in order to file a claim against the California or federal government, reach out to our Riverside personal injury lawyers.

Filing a Claim Against a Private Party

Claims brought against a private party may be a little less rule oriented, but that does not make them any less complex. For instance, if your accident was caused by cargo that fell out of a commercial trucker’s trailer, you may have a claim against the company (respondent superior – the company being responsible for the actions of its agents and employees), producing evidence to prove that the trucker owed drivers on the road a duty of care and that the trucker was acting within his or her scope of employment when the accident happened. You would also have a claim against the truck operator.

Get the Help You Need

Road debris and conditions can be a real hazard, and in addition to posing a safety threat to drivers on the road, it can also pose many complex legal problems. An experienced Riverside car accident lawyer can help you navigate those issues and garner the evidence necessary to support your claim. Do not hesitate to give our team a call today. If you have been injured in a Riverside, CA, contact Heiting & Irwin, APLC. Our team also serves Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino & Riverside Counties and all of Southern California.

Richard Irwin

Mr. Irwin is a recognized specialist in Workers’ Compensation law. He has been certified as a specialist by the State Bar of California since 1995. He limits his practice to handling only workers’ compensation cases. View Attorney Richard Irwin's Attorney Bio Here.

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