The entities responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of our roads have a responsibility to make sure they are safe for those who use them. If a roadway is negligently designed, and that defect results in an injury-causing crash, there may be grounds for victim to recover damages.

driveway-200x300However, from whom those damages are derived will depend heavily on how long it’s been since that work was finished (if it was finished) and whether the municipality or state had already accepted those designs/construction.

In Florida, we often refer to the “Slavin Doctrine” as the guiding principle. Essentially, if the work has already been accepted by the government (or other entity), then it is the government that can be held responsible – not the contractors who worked to engineer and/or build it.

Each state has its own set of rules for how these kinds of claims must be handled. In Connecticut, for example, there is the municipal highway defect statute. It permits recovery of damages from the government for injuries caused by defective roadways, sidewalks and bridges. The law is founded upon the principle of premises liability, and requires actual or constructive notice of a defect before injury occurred in order for government to be held liable.

In the recent case of Cuozzo v. Orange, a car accident injury lawsuit was brought on this theory of negligence.

According to court records, plaintiff asserted he was a business invitee on private property, which abutted a public highway. The driveway of the property was controlled, maintained, managed operated and/or supervised by defendant city. Plaintiff alleges as he drove his vehicle on the entrance driveway, his vehicle suddenly and without warning came in contact with a large pothole, approximately two feet in diameter, situated about three feet from the driveway’s intersection. As a result of hitting that pothole, plaintiff reportedly suffered personal injury and property damage.

Plaintiff asserted defendant city knew or should have known the pothole existed prior to the incident. Further, plaintiff alleged defendant failed to properly repair/remedy a dangerous and/or unsafe condition on its property.

Defendant argued the complaint should be dismissed because it did not comply with the notice requirements necessary when suing a public entity. Specifically, notice was not given within 90 days of the incident.

Plaintiff countered the driveway itself was not a public road, but rather a private driveway, and thus the notice requirement was inapplicable.

Defendant countered that the pothole was close enough to the travel portion of the road to constitute a highway defect, so the claim should be bound by municipal notice rules as set forth in the municipal highway defect statute.

Appellate court ruled the jurisdictional issue was tied up in the merits of the case and thus, summary judgment was improper, and the case should be decided at trial. The state supreme court on this point affirmed.

The specific issue here is the plain meaning of the word “highway.” It’s customarily understood to mean a a roadway open to the use of the public. That issue was factually in dispute here, and thus, the case was remanded to trial for further consideration.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Cuozzo v. Orange, March 3, 2015, Connecticut Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Pre-Death Pain and Suffering in Some Wrongful Death Lawsuits, Feb. 26, 2015, Fort Myers Car Accident Lawyer Blog