If a driver sustains injuries and/or vehicle damage in a car accident, the first thing the driver should do after addressing immediate medical issues is to determine who is at fault for the accident. In most single-vehicle accidents, the affected drivers simply assume they are to blame because no other drivers took part in the accident, but this is not always the case. If dangerous road conditions like potholes caused an accident, the government agency responsible for the road’s care and maintenance is liable for the driver’s damages.
Filing a lawsuit against a government office or agency is more complicated than a civil claim against another private individual. Many government entities have sovereign immunity, granting them immunity from civil liability. If a driver intends to file a lawsuit against a government agency that does not have sovereign immunity, the driver must typically contend with a much shorter statute of limitations. In most states, the statute of limitations or time limit for filing personal injury claims is two years, but it may be as short as six months for some government offices.
Determining Government Liability
The road on which an accident occurs also influences a subsequent lawsuit. For example, if a pothole accident occurs on a local road in a residential area, it likely falls under the jurisdiction of the local municipality. If the accident is on a state road, it likely falls under the purview of the state’s Department of Public Safety or Department of Transportation. Accidents that occur on interstate highways maintained by the federal government would fall under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Transportation at the federal level.
Perhaps the most important aspect of determining the ability to take legal action against a government entity is foreseeability, or whether a specific road condition was foreseeably hazardous to drivers. Government agencies perform routine maintenance of the roads in their jurisdictions, but it is not always possible to predict when an accident could occur. For example, a large truck may create a pothole on a highway that causes an accident only a few hours later. In this situation, the government agency responsible could not have located and fixed the issue in such a short amount of time.
Most government transportation agencies learn of dangerous road conditions like potholes from reports filed by drivers. They also regularly perform surveys of the roads in their jurisdictions. If the evidence shows that there was no way for the agency responsible for a stretch of road to have noticed and repaired the pothole before it caused an accident, the agency would likely avoid liability for the accident.
How to Succeed with Your Pothole Claim
If a driver intends to take legal action against a government office or agency for a pothole accident, the first step is proving foreseeability; this means proving the agency knew about the pothole but did not address it in a timely manner. The injured driver’s attorney may wish to contact people who live near the accident site to ask about their experiences with the pothole and the local road maintenance efficacy. The driver’s attorney may also request survey records to see if the agency had already identified the pothole but failed to take adequate steps toward fixing it within a reasonable time.
In any event, time is a critical factor after any pothole accident. If dangerous road conditions caused an accident, then it is likely your subsequent lawsuit will be against a government agency of some kind, and that means meeting a much shorter statute of limitations. Hiring an experienced Long Beach car accident attorney as soon as possible after a pothole accident can help improve the chance of securing compensation.