Pothole injuries are personal injuries that can occur to an individual due to a local government entity or other entity failing to properly maintain a road. Potholes typically form due to weather conditions and the expansion and contraction of water underground. However, salt buildup, motor vehicle oil, and other elements may also cause erosion and break apart a road surface.
Although most drivers avoid potholes to prevent injury to their vehicle, the simple act of motorists avoiding potholes often causes accidents with other motorists or the surrounding environment. Further, some potholes may not be avoidable or visible to a driver. This often results in an increased chance of motor vehicle accidents and injuries. Additionally, potholes grow worse as time passes due to weather conditions and the daily wear from vehicles driving over them.
If you or your vehicle have been personally injured while driving on a public road, you may have a legal claim against the local government responsible for the management of the roadway. However, suing a local public entity or the government is typically more difficult than suing a private party.
What are Some Examples of Pothole Injuries?
As mentioned above, the most common pothole injury is an injury that occurs in a motor vehicle when the operator either drives to avoid the pothole or the pothole causes the driver to lose control over their vehicle. However, potholes may result in a variety of other injuries to property or person(s) including, but not limited to:
- Injuries to Pedestrians: If a large pothole causes the operator of a motor vehicle to lose control of their vehicle, the sudden loss of control may cause injuries to the pedestrians in the area. For example, if there is a large pothole in the middle of a busy city and a driver hits it and loses control over their vehicle, pedestrians in the near vicinity to the pothole would be at a substantially higher risk of injury;
- Injuries to Cyclists: Potholes pose a significant risk of injury to cyclists and motorcyclists. This is due to the fact that bicycles and motorcycles are two wheeled vehicles. Striking a pothole while riding on a motorcycle or bicycling often results in the biker being thrown from their vehicle resulting in significant injuries; and
- Injuries to Property: When a motor vehicle operator loses control of their vehicle, they may then crash into nearby property. For example, if a motor vehicle operator strikes a large pothole and uncontrollably jumps the curb into a local restaurant, the resulting personal and property injuries would be substantial.
What Evidence Can Be Used to Prove a Pothole Injury?
If you were injured as a result of a pothole, it is important that you document all of the evidence surrounding your injury. First, you should make sure that either you or another party has photographic evidence of the pothole itself. Importantly, if you were severely injured or another party was injured, it is important to obtain the police report that was likely created as a result of your accident.
Next, you should make sure to properly maintain all of your medical records and medical bills relating to the incident. For example, if you broke bones as a result of the accident caused by the pothole, you should make sure you have a copy of all relevant x-rays and other medical records outlining your exact injuries.
Finally, if there were any passengers in your vehicle that may have also been injured or witnesses that may have witnessed that your accident was the result of the pothole, it is important to have their contact information. A third party testifying that the accident happened as a direct result of the pothole itself is invaluable.
Can You Sue the City for Pothole Injuries?
As mentioned above, suing a local public entity or government is more difficult than suing a private party. The reason why it is difficult to sue the government is because they have sovereign immunity. Generally, a city is immune from civil lawsuits filed against them by individual private properties due to the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity.
The purpose of the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity is to prevent from having to deal with constant lawsuits brought against it. The idea is that fighting lawsuits costs a lot of money, and having to fight numerous lawsuits would inevitably result in a collapse of government due to the costs alone.
However, the government may be liable for personal injuries suffered by the public under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) or other similar state Tort Act. The FTCA essentially allows a private citizen to sue the government in certain circumstances.Under the ACt, the federal government waives its sovereign immunity and recognizes liability for the negligence or intentional wrongful acts of federal employees, during the course and scope of their employment.
Thus, in order to sue a city for an injury caused by a pothole, it is important to be familiar with both the FTCA and the local laws that provide the exclusive methods for suing the government. There are numerous rules that must be followed in order to bring a legal claim against the state or governmental entity.
Can a Private Property Owner Be Liable for a Pothole?
As mentioned above, it is much easier to sue a private citizen for injuries than it is to sue a governmental entity. When potholes on private property cause an injury to an individual, that individual can file a personal injury lawsuit against the private property owner for their damages. Typically, the injured party would file a premises liability claim against the private property owner.
In order to succeed in a premises liability claim, the injured party would have to show that the property owner first owed them a duty of care, then prove that they knew of the pothole and the danger’s associated, and that their failure to remedy the pothole breached their duty of care resulting in injuries. Thus, parties that had permission to be on the road from the private property owner are more likely to succeed in a premises liability claim than a trespasser. This is because a private property owner generally owes no duty of care to a trespasser.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Been Injured by a Pothole?
As can be seen, suing the government or local state entity for personal injuries sustained as a result of a pothole is often a difficult matter. Therefore, if you have been injured by a pothole, it is in your best interests to contact a well qualified and skilled personal injury attorney.
An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate your personal injury claim, and help you navigate governmental immunity. Additionally, they will be able to help you build your case against the government and file your claim against them on your behalf. Finally, they will be able to negotiate with the party responsible for your injuries, and represent you in court as necessary.