If you regularly travel through construction on the way to work, you may often feel like you're navigating a video game maze. Operating a motor vehicle at high speeds while winding through traffic barrels and pieces of machinery can be stressful and potentially hazardous -- especially if a piece of construction equipment has shifted just enough to block part of the roadway. If you're involved in a traffic accident caused by a road hazard -- an errant piece of construction machinery, road barrel, or even a car stranded with a flat tire -- who is responsible for paying the resulting costs? What should you do if you're involved in such an accident? Read on to learn more about who (and what) may be potentially liable for road hazard injuries caused by construction.
Who is responsible for injuries caused by road hazards?
Construction liability can be a complex issue, and liability largely depends on the type of hazard and the arrangement the contracting company has with the city or state arranging repair of the roads.
If you strike an object that is owned or controlled by the construction company (like a road barrel or piece of machinery), your first recourse is likely with this company. Because the construction company's employees may be deemed responsible for controlling these items and ensuring they don't cause harm to drivers, they're also responsible for any damages that result from a breach of this duty.
In some cases the construction company may defer liability to the state. This may happen if the state is exercising control over the construction project or if state safety regulators overlooked an obvious hazard that was within their purview.
If you strike an object that would not have been on the roadway but for the construction (for example, a vehicle with a flat tire caused by construction debris), you may be able to argue that the construction company is at least partially responsible for your injuries and property damage, but it is generally easier to collect from the vehicle owner's insurance policy in this situation. Unless the vehicle is an exceptionally large or heavy one, the owner could have potentially moved it further from the road, rendering it less of a hazard. Failure to completely remove a disabled vehicle from the roadway can be considered the proximate cause of the accident.
If you're not sure who might be deemed responsible, contact a car accident lawyer to go over your options.
What should you do if you're injured in an accident caused by a road hazard?
Once you've narrowed down the list of those responsible for the costs resulting from your accident, you'll want to contact the responsible party's insurance company. Construction companies and auto drivers are required to carry liability insurance (although not all always do) designed precisely for these types of situations.
If the driver of the vehicle that caused your accident didn't have insurance, you may receive compensation from your own insurance policy through your uninsured driver coverage. You'll need to check with your agent to confirm whether your expenses are covered and how you'll be able to recover any additional costs.
It's important to note that if you're planning to collect from the state (or a state agency), you'll first need to file a notice under your state's tort claim laws. This notice allows the state to prepare a response or settlement offer before the matter goes through the insurance companies (or through the civil courts). If you fail to properly file a tort claim notice within the prescribed time period, you could later be prevented from collecting from the state in a lawsuit. Each state's tort claim laws vary, so you'll want to consult an attorney to assist you with this process.