There are numerous different types of traffic control devices that drivers may encounter on the roadway, including:
- Signs; and
- Signal devices.
These are used to guide, control, and inform all roadway users, such as:
- Bicyclists; and
- Motor vehicle drivers.
In some cases, it may be possible to sue a governmental entity for injuries or death caused by a missing or defective traffic control device. Typically, this type of case involves a driver having an automobile accident because a traffic light gives the wrong signal or no signal at all.
Other common cases involve a stop sign that has been misplaced or was obscured by another object.
What do I Have to Prove to Sue for Injuries or Death Caused by a Missing or Defective Traffic Control Device?
It may be possible for an individual to bring a case against a governmental entity for injuries or deaths which were caused by a missing or defective traffic control device. Typically, a governmental entity includes:
- A city;
- A county; or
- A state.
To bring a case against a governmental entity, an individual is typically required to show that:
- The governmental entity had a duty to exercise reasonable care to maintain the traffic control devices;
- The governmental entity did not exercise reasonable care when carrying out its maintenance duties; and
- The governmental entity’s failure to exercise reasonable care resulted in injury or death.
In addition, it may be necessary for an individual to show that the governmental entity actually had advance notice of the missing or defective traffic control device and that the entity did, in fact, have enough time to fix the problem.
How is it Determined Whether the Governmental Entity has a Duty to Maintain Traffic Devices or Not?
Typically, the determination of whether a governmental entity has a duty to maintain a traffic control device or does not is by examining local or state statutes that govern traffic safety and transportation. It may also be possible that the governmental entity has a duty to maintain a traffic device based upon the traditional law that a governmental entity is responsible for keeping the streets and highways in a condition which is safe for customary travel.
How do I Show That The Governmental Entity did not Exercise Reasonable Care?
Typically, an individual can show that a governmental entity did not exercise reasonable care when maintaining a traffic control device if that entity was aware of the problem and did not take any steps to repair the issue, even though ample time was available to do so. In the case of an obscured stop sign, it will be important to show that the stop sign was not visible at a sufficient distance from an intersection to a driver who is traveling at a normal speed to be able to stop before reaching the intersection.
What Defenses May the Governmental Entity Raise Against this Claim?
A governmental entity may be able to raise one of several defenses to a claim regarding a defective traffic control device to avoid liability, including:
- Governmental immunity;
- Insufficient notice of the issue to take remedial actions;
- Something other than the missing or defective traffic device caused the injury or death; and
- The injured party is also responsible for their own injuries or death, such as drunk driving.
What Type of Damages Can I Recover in an Auto Accident Lawsuit?
There are two main categories of damages which may be recovered in automobile accident lawsuits, compensatory damages and punitive damages. A compensatory damages award is a monetary award paid by the negligence driver to the driver and passengers of the other vehicle that compensates the plaintiff, or injured individual, for their losses.
Compensatory damages are awarded to cover the typical losses individuals suffer from automobile accidents which can be proven, including:
- The cost of repairing or replacing the vehicle damaged in the accident. This may also include the cost of renting a replacement vehicle while the repair work is done on the individual’s vehicle;
- An individual who is injured by a negligent driver can expect to receive damages to pay the costs of their medical care. This may include compensation for:
- Doctors visits;
- Hospital stays;
- Therapy; and
- Other related costs;
- If an individual who was injured in an automobile accident cannot perform their job as a result, they may be compensated for their lost wages; and
- An injured driver or passenger may also claim compensation for their pain and suffering.
It may also be possible for a plaintiff to collect compensation for losses which the individual may experience in the future. For example, in some of the worst cases, an individual may not be able to work at the same type of job which they had before the accident.
In these types of cases, the individual may then collect compensation for financial losses caused by the accident. An injured driver may also require long-term care in a facility, such as a nursing facility.
A negligent driver may be required to pay for the cost of the plaintiff’s long-term care. In many situations, expert witness testimony may be required to provide a reliable estimate of the amount of the future losses.
Can I Recover Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are additional amounts of money that a negligent driver may be required to pay if they engaged in intentional misconduct or extreme recklessness. Extreme recklessness may include conduct such as speeding many miles per hour over the speed limit.
The majority of automobile accidents only involve simple negligence. Simple negligence may involve conduct such as not stopping in enough time to avoid hitting the car in front of an individual at a red light.
If the driver who caused the automobile accident engaged in conduct which only reached the level of simple negligence, the injured driver will not likely be able to collect punitive damages. Punitive damages may also be referred to as exemplary damages.
Punitive damages may be awarded if a negligent driver engaged in conduct such as:
- Gross violations of traffic laws and road rules;
- Driving while intoxicated, DUI or DWI;
- Incompetence, especially if a driver is unlicensed; and
- Driving while knowing that the vehicle was in poor condition.
Punitive damages are awarded with the intent to punish the negligent driver for gross misconduct. These types of damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages.
Therefore, if a plaintiff’s vehicle was not damaged and they did not sustain any injuries, they will not be awarded punitive damages. It is important to note that some states place limits on the amount of punitive damages which may be awarded.
Typically, a state will provide that punitive damages are required to be relatively proportionate to the compensatory damages amount that is awarded. In other words, the punitive damages must be reasonable when compared to the amount of compensatory damages.
For example, if a driver is awarded compensatory damages of $5,000, then they may expect a punitive damages award of $500,000 but not $5,000,000. An award of millions of dollars would not be proportionate to the award of compensatory damages.
Do You Need an Attorney Experienced in Auto Accidents?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an automobile accident attorney for any issues, questions, or concerns you may have related to an automobile accident. If you or a loved one has been injured in an automobile accident, it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible.
Your attorney can advise you regarding the damages which may be available in your case. Your attorney will also represent you in court and help you obtain the damages you need to compensate you for your injuries or losses.