Most states recognize that the constant presence of speeding cars makes highways dangerous and accidents that do occur are likely to cause severe injuries. As a result, contractors are legally obligated to exercise reasonable care and put in place reasonable precautions when they engage in construction on public highways.
Construction contractors have a duty to take steps to reduce the risk of accidents and warn drivers of potential dangers in a highway construction zone. When this duty of care is breached, the contractor may be liable to compensate victims for their losses. Failure to exercise due care can make a contractor potentially liable for any injuries that result from their negligence
If a single contractor’s employee engages in actions that breach that duty of care, the construction contractor may still be responsible on a theory of vicarious liability for the actions of their employee.
Under certain circumstances, a state, county, or local municipal government can be responsible for construction zones on a roadway. A government entity and its employees might be doing rfhe construction and so could be held liable if they fail to take the steps necessary to keep drivers safe, much in the same way that the construction contractors could be held liable.
Holding government entities liable for vehicle accidents is more complex than holding private parties liable. There are shorter deadlines for filing claims against a government agency. So, this is one reason to consult a personal injury attorney promptly if a person has been in an accident in a construction zone. If a government entity is potentially liable, the attorney would want to be able to act promptly before time limits expire.
Of course, in every negligence lawsuit, the victim must prove that the negligent actions of some entity were the direct cause of the accident that resulted in injury to the victim. So, if the victim believes that a construction contractor is liable, the victim must show in what manner the contractor was negligent and how its negligence caused the accident.
Common Causes of Highway Construction Zone Accidents
Some examples of actions on the part of a contractor that might show negligence are as follows:
- Failure to design the construction zone in a way that does not force drivers to make dangerous maneuvers;
- Failure to keep equipment off the roadway to avoid creating a hazard for drivers;
- Failure to properly place warning signs throughout the work zone to alert drivers to potential hazards or the need to reduce speed and the like;
- Failure to operate construction equipment and heavy machinery in a safe manner so as to avoid creating risks of collision.
What Does It Mean for a Contractor to Exercise “Reasonable Precautions”?
As noted above, state laws vary as to what exactly are reasonable precautions. The general idea is to make sure construction does not interfere with highway drivers and adequately alerts them of any need to modify their driving by, for example, reducing their speed.
Some additional steps that might qualify as a reasonable precautions are as follows:
- Erecting barricades to isolate construction zones from main highways;
- Posting signs indicating construction and warning of oncoming hazards;
- Installing proper lighting to ensure that drivers can see the construction;
- Limiting construction to times when traffic levels are at their lowest.
Of course, what is a reasonable precaution in any given situation is going to depend on the specific circumstances of the situation, such as the extent of the construction, the number of personnel and equipment on the site, the characteristics of the road and the like.
Who Is Liable for Highway Construction Accidents?
Liability for highway accidents that occur in construction zones depends on whether an accident was caused by the negligence of the contractor or other factors such as traffic, weather, speed limits, or the negligence of the drivers involved. It is possible that more than one party would be liable for an accident. Then the theories of contributory and comparative negligence might come into play, depending on the law in the state where the accident takes place.
The fact is that unsafe driving is the most common cause of car accidents generally and in construction zones also. Drivers may not expect construction zones, or they simply find them inconvenient and fail to adjust their driving to the circumstances. This can lead to some drivers operating their vehicles recklessly in an attempt to get to their destination.
Some common causes of construction zone accidents include:
- Driving while distracted by phones, other devices or eating while driving;
- Speeding or driving too fast for conditions, e.g. wet roadways;
- Operating while impaired by alcohol or drugs;
- Tailgating other vehicles;
- Weaving between lanes of traffic;
- Failing to yield the right of way.
If a person is seriously injured in an accident in a highway construction zone, the person should file a personal injury lawsuit that would name all of the parties that could potentially be liable. This is something that an experienced personal injury attorney would know how to manage.
It would be helpful if law enforcement responded to the accident and conducted an investigation into what caused the crash. However, if fault is not clearly identified by the law enforcement investigation, investigators and experts representing the parties may have to do more work to determine who caused the crash. This may be especially true if the accident involved multiple vehicles. The services of an accident reconstruction specialist may be required.
Again, it is important to note that fault may not always lie with a negligent driver, but with other entities such as the construction company in charge of maintaining a safe work zone or even the state, county or municipal government responsible for the roadway where the construction zone is located. When the liability may fall on one of these other parties, a more thorough investigation may need to be conducted by a person’s attorney.
What If an Entire Road Is Closed for Construction?
If the road is closed, a contractor would probably not be liable for any injury. If a driver decides to drive on a closed road, a court is likely to assign responsibility for injury to the driver.
Does It Matter If an Accident Occurs During the Night or Daytime?
Given the lack of visibility at night, arguably contractors need to put additional precautions in place during highway construction at night. Again, if a contractor’s failure to take necessary precautions is the direct cause of an accident, the contractor can be liable.
Nighttime driving is known to be more dangerous than daytime driving. Research does consistently show that more car accidents occur at night. There are many reasons for this, but the main reason is drivers whose vision is impaired or who are intoxicated or fatigued.
How Can a Lawyer Help Me?
If you are a driver who was severely injured as a result of an accident in a highway construction zone, you should contact a workplace injury attorney to learn about any legal claims you may have. It is important to contact an attorney promptly so deadlines are not missed.
An attorney can analyze the facts of your case, investigate your state’s highway construction laws, and help determine whether the contractor’s failure put reasonable precautions in place. Or, your attorney can organize an investigation to find out whether other parties or factors were the direct cause of your injury.