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There are situations where driver error is not the only cause of an accident. A defective highway or street may cause or contribute to motor vehicle accidents. Sometimes the governmental entity is held liable for a single car accident that occurs on defectively designed streets and roadways. Poor maintenance and inadequate signage may also be a contributing factor to an accident. For example, the shoulders of roadways must not present an unreasonable risk of harm to traveling motorists. Liability may arise where the shoulders of the roadway have not been properly maintained. When there is ongoing construction there is a duty to warn motorists of any danger presented by such construction projects. Inoperable traffic lights, improper signals and traffic control devices that are not visible may serve as a basis for liability for the responsible entity.
The roadway itself has to be designed to certain specifications and standards. The standards are updated and changed from year to year. Without an expert experienced in highway defect cases, it is almost impossible to know what standard applies. In Louisiana, the state is not required to update highways to modern construction standards. To successfully recover against a public entity for a street or highway defect you must be able to prove that: (1) the thing that caused your damages was in the custody of the entity at issue; (2) the roadway was defective or created an unreasonable risk of harm or injury; (3) the entity had actual or constructive notice and did not fix the problem within a reasonable length of time; and (4) the defective or unsafe condition was the legal cause of the victim's injuries.
There is no legal requirement that the roadways be in perfect condition and not every imperfection or irregularity will give rise to a highway defect claim. Each case must be evaluated on its own merit. That is why retaining an experienced lawyer is extremely important.
Some states have enacted legislation to place a limit on the amount an injured party can recover against a political subdivision or governmental entity. In Louisiana Revised Statute 13:5101 et seq. sets the cap on general damages in Louisiana at $500,000.
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