Who Is Liable When Road Hazards Cause a New York Car Accident?

Lever & Ecker, PLLC July 7, 2022 Car Accidents,Personal injury

According to recent findings by the National Transportation Research Nonprofit, up to 47% of major roads in New York are in poor or mediocre condition. This eye-opening statistic highlights the dangers motorists face on their everyday travels. Road hazards such as uneven pavement, black ice, potholes, and more can pose serious hazards to road users, resulting in traffic accidents that can cause serious injuries or even death.

Just as motorists must exhibit a certain level of care for others on the road and follow traffic laws, the municipal agencies overseeing the maintenance and safety of their respective cities, town or villages’ roadways also have a legal responsibility to maintain the roads properly. Likewise, contractors hired by municipalities to maintain, repair, and repave the roadways are also responsible to do so properly. Thus, when municipalities and the contractors they hire fail to maintain the roads properly, they can be held to account for any resulting accidents and damages.

Types of Dangerous Roadway Defects

Road defects may result from natural factors like erosion that causes potholes, while others may be caused by neglect and poor maintenance. Unrepaired roadway defects can increase the risk of accidents for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. The most common defects include:

  • Inadequate traffic signals: When information signs and traffic signals are either unclear or nonexistent, a motorist may not know how to proceed. This increases the risk of collision and error.
  • Lack of crucial warning signs: When fixing a damaged road, the responsible company may set up workspaces that impede the natural course of the road. But this is often risky if it fails to warn road users of these zones.
  • Poorly designed roads: Roads should be designed to offer the safest driving environment. Design flaws like steep drop-offs, sharp turns, confusing intersections, and blind curves can increase the risk of accidents.
  • Poorly drained roads: This can cause a buildup of ice in freezing conditions, making the roads slippery and dangerous.
  • Potholes: These result from bad weather, temperature fluctuations, and heavy traffic, and they worsen by the day. Even small potholes can impact a driver’s control, leading to swerving and collision with another motorist.  
  • Uneven pavements: If a driver fails to identify an irregular pavement, they may not adjust their speed to ride safely into areas that require them to slow down. Shoulder drop-offs, where the road’s shoulder is at a different level than other street sections, also present a hazard to motorists.

All these roadway defects can lead to traffic accidents. But who should be held to account? 

Potentially Liable Parties in a Road Hazard Accident in New York

Depending on the situation that caused your car accident, the following parties are potentially liable when a road hazard causes an accident in New York:

A Government Agency

Government agencies are generally responsible for road and street maintenance and ensuring safe roadways for drivers. In addition to generally keeping the roadways safe and well maintained, the municipality may also be responsible to ensure that construction and hazard notice properly notify motorists about such things as lane closures, construction zones, and lane shifts. Failure to do this or apply other safety steps could result in municipal liability after an accident.

Importantly, special rules apply when pursuing a claim against a government agency or municipality. If a municipality was negligent and caused your accident, you must file a notice of claim with the municipality within 90 days after the accident, and you must thereafter file the lawsuit within a much shorter time frame than in other situations, even as a little as one year, or one year and 90 days, after the accident.

The Construction Company

Sometimes, as stated above, a municipality may hire a private construction company to perform road maintenance, repair, or repaving. If the construction company fails to do its work properly, fails to provide adequate warning of a road hazard, or otherwise acts in a way that causes or contributes to an accident or injury, it could be liable for the accident and resulting damages.  

Another Motorist

Like any other accident type, another driver may be directly responsible for the damages suffered in an accident. All road users must follow relevant traffic laws and use precautions when on the road, especially in sections with road hazards. Drivers, workers, and or passengers in the vehicle could all be at risk if a driver ignores the law.

Such cases proceed like other vehicle crash cases, although you will likely encounter stricter rules for driving in a construction zone. For instance, these sections usually have lower speed limits.

Contributory Negligence Sometimes Comes Into Play

Occasionally, accident victims contribute to their misfortunes even if they are not entirely to blame. If this happens in your case, it is still possible to recover compensation under the state’s comparative negligence law.

For instance, if you were speeding and then hit an unanticipated road hazard near a construction zone, you may be held partially liable for the accident along with the responsible construction company or government agency. This degree of fault does not prevent you from holding them to account or recovering compensation, but your recovery will be reduced by the percentage of fault found attributable to your conduct.

In such circumstances, it is strongly recommended that you involve a car accident attorney who will guide you as you navigate the challenges of contributory negligence.  

It Is Always Wise to Involve an Experienced New York Car Accident Attorney

Injuries during a traffic accident can result in physical injuries, financial losses, and emotional pain. Fortunately, you can seek legal remedies, known as compensation, from the responsible parties to recover for these damages. While the money may not restore your initial condition, it can help you address the financial burdens caused by the case.

While your case may at first seem straightforward, do not expect a smooth ride. The claims process can get complicated and challenging, as you will be going against the other party’s experienced insurance adjusters and defense attorneys, whose jobs it is to limit your recovery or prevent it entirely. However, engaging a reputable attorney on your behalf can give you an edge, handling your case in the following ways:

  • Communicating and dealing with savvy insurance claims adjusters and other parties involved in the case
  • Completing a thorough investigation into the cause and circumstances of your crash
  • Gathering sufficient evidence to prove your case
  • Identifying all the individuals responsible for the accident, your injuries, and damages
  • Starting the lawsuit on your behalf, and filing a notice of claim where applicable
  • Keeping you in the loop throughout the case while supporting you and providing legal advice
  • Negotiating a just and appropriate settlement for your damages, or proceeding to trial if the other side refuses to agree that you are entitled to compensation for your injuries

Clearly, a car accident attorney can come through for you in a big way, but you must always work with an excellent legal team to achieve a favorable case outcome. 

Reach Out to Experienced New York Car Accident Attorneys at Lever & Ecker, PLLC

The impact of a car accident attorney on your case cannot be overstated. The award-winning attorneys at Lever & Ecker, PLLC, boast over 60 years of combined experience in handling successful personal injury claims and are ready to review your case for free and advise you accordingly.

To arrange your free consultation, fill out our contact form or call us at either (914) 288-9191 or (718) 933-3632 today.