The state has paid about $40 million in the last ten years to settle personal injury cases linked to deteriorating roads.
That $40 million has been spread out over roughly 11,000 claims, and about 70 percent of them are pothole damage. In addition to property loss, the state is also responsible for other damages, like medical bills. In most cases, county Department of Transportation maintenance offices are legally responsible; larger claims are referred to the South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund. “This is just an example of the carnage that’s out there when the state fails to do what it’s supposed to do,” said one injury victim.
Lawmakers seem to be addressing the problem. Governor Nikki Haley is supporting a provision to spend $400 million to upgrade the state’s roads, which are in serious disrepair, in many areas. According to the DOT, 80 percent of South Carolina’s secondary roads, and a third of its interstates, are in poor or fair condition. Moreover, 20 percent of the state’s bridges are either unsound or obsolete. The DOT also estimates that it will take about $1.2 billion to fully upgrade the state’s surface transportation infrastructure.
In addition to potholes and other surface defects, the state is also responsible for damages caused by mowers, painters, and all other road-related construction work.
From a negligence perspective, drivers on public roads are invitees, or persons who are invited onto the premises and whose presence benefits the landowner in some way. In such situations, landowners have a duty to inspect premises and keep them reasonably safe.
Landowners also have obligations to other visitors, albeit to a lesser extent. In terms of trespassers, or those who are on the land without express permission, the owner must refrain from intentional harm and prevent injury due to obvious defects. A higher duty may apply depending on the age of the trespasser, like children, or frequency of trespassing, like hunters who routinely wander across the property line.
The third category – licensees – is people who are on the land with permission but whose presence does not benefit the landowner. In these cases, liability is a middle ground between invitee and trespasser.
Suing the Government
Road construction, traffic signal installation, and other activities are generally covered by sovereign immunity, meaning that the government cannot be sued for not putting up a stop sign or installing a crosswalk. However, road maintenance is generally considered a proprietary function that requires no exercise of discretion. As sovereign immunity is designed to give government officials confidence to exercise their discretion without fear of lawsuits, there is no need for such immunity in other cases.
In addition to road and infrastructure management, other examples of proprietary functions include:
- Sewer maintenance;
- Medical care for inmates; and
- Public building defects.
Generally, the government is responsible for both economic and noneconomic damages.
Reach Out to an Aggressive Lawyer
Public and private landowners both have obligations to keep their property safe. For a free consultation with an assertive personal injury attorney in Charleston, contact David Aylor Law Offices. We have three locations in the area.