Mistakes in road construction can lead to major injuries to motorists. Those injuries often lead to lawsuits against construction companies and can result in significant liability for injuries. In some cases, the government may be on the hook in an injury lawsuit. In the sections that follow, we will identify some common mistakes that lead to injuries and discuss what a lawsuit for injuries caused by mistakes in road construction might look like.
The number of possible mistakes that can be made in road construction is infinite, but below are a few of the most common examples:
Motorists should be given ample warning of road construction. Federal and state regulations specify the types of signs that should be used, the locations where signs should be placed, and the number of signs that should be used. Failures by construction companies (or municipalities) to use the proper warning signs can lead to insufficient warning to motorists, which can in turn lead to injuries to either motorists, construction workers, or both.
Regulations dictate how sharply motorists can be required to turn and at what speeds. If motorists are surprised by a sudden sharp turn at a high rate of speed, accidents become more likely. The construction company or municipality might be liable for any resulting injuries.
Active road construction can often require uneven pavement, at least temporarily. But unmarked uneven pavement can be hazardous to motorists, particularly to motorcyclists. Standards vary by state, but as an example, regulations might require any ridge of two inches or more to be well marked, with appropriate signs to give warning of the need for caution and reduced speed.
Even when construction has long since been completed, car accidents caused by poor road conditions can still lead to claims against the "owner" of the road. These claims are often based on inadequate maintenance, rather than negligent construction.
Either a construction worker or a motorist may be able to sue a construction company for road construction injuries. Because the two types of lawsuits are generally similar, we'll discuss them together. In order to win a personal injury lawsuit for harm caused by road construction, an injured person must prove three elements in establishing negligence.
1. Duty to Keep a Construction Zone Safe. With few exceptions, a company in charge of road construction has a duty to keep the construction zone safe for both workers and motorists. The contentious question in a lawsuit is usually, “what constitutes a ‘safe’ construction zone?”
There are two possible answers. The simplest answer is that a construction company should comply with federal and state safety regulations. So, if regulations require warning signs of upcoming construction to be placed at least a quarter of a mile before the beginning of the construction zone, those regulations place a duty on the construction company to make sure that the proper signage is used.
The second answer is that a construction company may have to take reasonable measures in addition to complying with regulations to keep the construction zone safe. In order to prove what that "reasonableness" requirement means in a given situation, an injured party (usually through an attorney) will hire an expert witness to explain to a jury what a construction company should have done under the circumstances to keep the construction zone safe.
2. Breach of the Duty. Any failure by a construction company to satisfy the duty to keep a construction zone safe can amount to negligence. For example, if a construction company had a duty to give motorists at least a quarter mile of warning prior to a construction zone, if the company fails to provide at least that amount of warning, the company breached its duty of care and acted negligently. And, if that breach caused harm to either an employee or a motorist, the company might be liable for the harm.
3. Harm Caused by the Breach. In personal injury and car accident cases, the most common types of damages include:
It is critical for the injured person to prove that the negligence actually caused the harm. For example, imagine a motorist proves that a construction company created a sharp curve on a freeway and warned motorists to slow down to 45 miles per hour. The motorist further proves that the maximum speed that a motorist could safely negotiate the curve was 35 miles per hour. The motorist has successfully proven that the construction company was negligent. It should have either made the curve easier to navigate or warned motorists to travel at a slower speed.
However, imagine further that the construction company proves that the motorist ignored the warning signs and attempted to negotiate the curve at 60 miles per hour. The construction company could credibly argue that its negligence did not actually cause any harm to the motorist. If the motorist ignored signs to slow to 45 miles per hour, wouldn’t the same motorist have ignored signs to slow to 35 miles per hour? The point is that an injured person does not automatically win a lawsuit by proving that a construction company acted negligently. The motorist must also prove that the negligence actually caused the injuries.
In many cases, a state or local government will play some sort of role in a road construction project. And if there is the potential for holding the government liable for injuries stemming from negligent road construction, you'll need to follow a special set of rules in seeking compensation. Learn more in our Injury Claims Against the Government section.