Was Your Crash More Than Just an Accident?


In a tragic accident in Utah in 2011, a public road collapsed leaving a teenage girl dead and two others injured. When the girl’s family sued the city for wrongful death as a direct result of an unsafe road, the judge’s decision reflected the current lack of legal clarity in road safety liability.

When asked if the city could or should have done more to prevent this accident, the judge said it probably should have. Indeed, the court did not obligate the city to provide any monetary compensation for the dead girl’s family. Why? It is as unclear to individual state courts as it is to the lawmakers themselves.

Every public entity that is responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of public roads, bridges, tunnels and walkways is equally responsible for doing what it can to ensure the public's safety in its subsequent use of these essential urban and rural travel ways.

In an accident, the city, county and state agencies and their engineers, contractors or subcontractors may be held liable for inadequate safety precautions such as:

  • Failure to post adequate signage
  • Failure to post hazard warnings
  • Failure to post speed limit
  • Failure to post signs prohibiting left or U-turns
  • Failure to install adequate traffic lights or stop signs

In Arizona, public entities and employers may enjoy immunity from personal injury claims resulting from design flaws, construction, right-of- way plans, bridges, tunnels or other highway structures. The statute that provides this immunity states that a plaintiff must submit a notice of intent to file a claim prior to the action itself if the claim is to hold up in court. According to the letter of the law, it is clear that public entities are liable for the conditions of the public roads. Unfortunately for accident victims, it is unclear how that liability gets translated into damages when an accident occurs.

Posted in Motor Vehicle Accidents