Spring has sprung in St. Joseph and western Missouri, and that means potholes. Potholes and other unsafe road conditions can cause car accidents. When they do, victims may be able to hold the government accountable for their losses, though there are additional barriers and limitations to these personal injury claims.
How Potholes Can Cause Car Accidents
Potholes can cause a car accident in several ways. They can:
- Cause vehicle damage without creating a crash
- Make drivers lose control of their vehicle after hitting the pothole, causing a single- or multi-vehicle crash
- Make drivers swerve to avoid the pothole, colliding with other vehicles or causing a crash in doing so
Generally, the driver will still be responsible for the crash in this last situation. The decision to avoid a pothole, no matter how quickly or automatically the driver makes it, can put others at risk and make the driver liable.
However, if the driver hits a pothole in the road or on the highway and this leads to damages, the party responsible for repairing the road can be held liable. This is generally the local municipality or the Missouri state government, both of which have agencies that regularly spend the spring patching potholes in the roadways.
State or Local Governments Responsible for Road Repair Can Be Liable
As we have explained in this blog before, poor road conditions can cause car accidents that expose the government to liability. The government has an obligation to keep the roads safe. Failing to uphold that obligation can make the government responsible for losses that result from that failure.
Potholes happen, and it is unreasonable to expect state and local departments of transportation to patch them as soon as they happen. However, government entities have to take reasonable steps to ensure these dangers do not cause harm. This generally means patching potholes within a reasonable amount of time and taking reasonable steps to find new ones.
Failing to take those reasonable steps can expose the state or local government to a personal injury claim.
Suing the Government is Complicated
Holding a state or local government liable for an accident is different than holding a private party liable. As we detailed in a blog post about an accident caused by a St. Joseph bus, Missouri’s sovereign immunity laws generally bar these claims. However, there are exceptions under the Missouri Tort Claims Act in Missouri Statute 537.600. One of these exceptions is for accidents caused by dangerous conditions on public property that created a reasonably foreseeable risk, and which were the result of the negligence of a public agency or employee. This includes car crashes caused by potholes.
However, unlike other personal injury claims, lawsuits against the government have a 90-day statute of limitations. Additionally, Missouri Statute 537.610 limits the available compensation to $300,000 per victim and $2 million per accident and forbids punitive damage awards.
St. Joseph Car Accident Attorneys at the Smith Law Office
The personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office help car accident victims recover the compensation that they deserve. Call them at (816) 875-9373 or contact them online to get the legal representation you need in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, or the rest of western Missouri.