When is a Road “Too Dangerous”?

We all know we need to exercise care when driving our cars. However, accidents and injuries still do occur, despite a driver’s best efforts.  Earlier this week, 23-year-old Evan Souris of Lake Park, GA, lost his life at the intersection of East Hill Avenue and Clay Road when his vehicle was struck by another car at a busy corner of what local residents and drivers call a “dangerous highway.”  The question is when is a highway dangerous enough to trigger legal liability for the county, State, or a government agency responsible for maintaining it?

Similar to a homeowner who can he held liable for a dangerous condition on the homeowner’s property, so too the State can potentially be held liable if government officials are aware of a dangerous condition on a roadway but fail to take appropriate action to eliminate the dangerous hazard. Factors such as the length of time that the dangerous condition has been present, the number of complaints the State has received, and the number of accidents at the site are some of the factors considered when determining liability.  It may not be feasible for a broken guardrail or a lone pothole to be repaired in a few hours, but over time, failure to make those repairs may open the door for the State to be found liable for accidents that occur at the site.

In the case of the Clay Road collision, residents say it was the third such accident at that location in less than a year.  The Georgia Department of Transportation appears to be aware of the danger and has plans in place to realign the road and install a traffic light at the intersection.  But residents say that these improvements are taking too long and the improvements obviously will come too late for the families affected by Tuesday’s crash.

Tragic accidents partly because of dangerous roads is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps most infamous is California’s Pearblossom Highway, where years of dangerous conditions such as blind turns, lack of guardrails, and insufficient signage, have prompted monikers for the roadway such as “Blood Alley”, “Highway of Death” and “Death Trap Highway.” Numerous lawsuits have been brought successfully against the California Department of Transportation for their failure to properly protect and warn motorists despite known dangerous roadway conditions. In Oregon, the State recently settled out of court with the families of two people killed when their car was hit head on by a pickup that had crossed over a median. There, the State had for years been aware of the need for a barrier on that particular stretch of road and yet failed to act.

In the event you or a family member is involved in a serious accident, a qualified and experienced lawyer can provide the guidance you need to navigate the complex questions of liability.