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Defective Roads

Did You Know?

If you are going to file a claim against a governmental entity such as the state, or one of its agencies, you must put that agency on written notice within six months from the date that an accident occurred.

How can a road be "defective"?

Many of the recurrent accidents that take place on state and local roads are the result of:

  • Berm and shoulder drop offs:   A berm area which is two inches or more beneath the surface of the traveling roadway is a possible hazardous area.
  • Isolated ice patches:   Isolated ice patches occur when the weather is very cold, it has not rained or snowed, and there is inadequate drainage for the roadway. Therefore, the water freezes and the road becomes a hazard to the traveling public. The governmental entity responsible for the road, as well as the landowner from where the water source emanates, could be responsible for any accidents or injuries that occur.
  • Failure of oil and chip operations:   Rather than overlaying a roadway with an asphalt bituminous mixture of one inch of materials or more, certain governmental agencies would rather apply a petroleum solution and then cover that with an aggregate base which is referred to as an "oil and chip operation".  A substantial number of oil and chip operations fail yearly whereby the aggregate material placed on top of the petroleum surface is lost and what exists is a petroleum base which can become very slippery when hot and wet.  It is important to look for these types of problems on curves of roadways where they occur most prominently.
  • Clear zone issues:   Did a fixed object located in the "right of way" of the roadway cause an accident?  Examples include:  utility poles, trees, narrow bridge abutments without proper paddle signs, uncovered culverts or drainage facilities.
  • Median Barriers:   On four lane highways where the average daily traffic counts are substantial, the requirements of the design manual for roadways are such that a jersey barrier (a raised concrete barrier thirty inches in height or greater) is recommended in certain circumstances and required in others.  Areas of concern arise when raised medians of only four to eight inches in height are used as dividers.  When a driver comes in contact with these dividers, the vehicle may become airborne resulting in an accident.
  • Work zone safety:  All construction zones whether done in house by PennDOT or performed by local municipalities have certain work zone safety requirements that they are supposed to follow pursuant to the Pennsylvania code.  Accidents in construction zones are often the result of improper and confusing signs, and have even critically injured construction workers who are working at these sites.
  • Positive Guidance:   Was a road properly marked to warn drivers or guide drivers through a roadway?  This issue arises frequently on very curvy roads where yellow advisory signs with black arrows on them should be used to delineate the curving nature of a roadway.  Additionally, yellow speed placards with advisory speed signs on them are also modes of positive guidance. Other examples of positive guidance include the use of edgelines and line striping on roadways.
  • Intersection Geometry:   Does a given intersection lend itself to to sight distance problems resulting in a possible hazard?  For example:
  • Mirrors: Were mirrors installed to help drivers turn at certain intersections where the slope of the roadway is extreme?
  • Natural Objects: Does an object such as a naturally growing tree, telephone poles, or sign in front of businesses block the driver's sight view?
  • Narrow Bridges: Are the roadways narrow or are there narrow bridges?  The recommended width of new constructed roads is a minimum of ten feet per roadway lane. On high speed roadways, it is recommended that twelve foot roadway lanes be used.  In Pennsylvania , there are still numerous roads where the surface is only eight feet wide.  This can create a possible hazard since it may be difficult to keep a vehicle on the road.  
  • Potholes:  If you are injured due to a pothole, it is recommended that an attorney check to see if such notice was on hand and when it was received.
  • Wheel Rutting:   Wheel rutting occurs when roads have not been resurfaced in over 10 years. These roads have a greater propensity for hydroplaning when the driver is going over 40mph, thus creating hazardous conditions.
  • Slippery When Wet Signs:   The existence of these signs on a road in an area where an accident occurs indicates that a substandard skid resistance exists on that road.  The presence of a Slippery When Wet sign on a roadway, either municipal or state, shows that a skid resistance test has been done on the roadway and that the roadway does not meet the requirements of having a non-hazardous roadway surface.  The placement of this warning sign is an attempt by the department to warn drivers of the hazards which may exits when it rains. 
  • Considerations:
    If you have been the unfortunate victim of a dangerous or defective road, the law allows you to collect from state or local municipalities for many of the injuries that occur on their roadways. Keep the following points in mind:
  • Filing a Claim: If you are going to file a claim against a governmental entity such as the state, or one of it's agencies, you must put that agency on written notice within six months from the date that an accident occurred.
  • Limits: Because of the time limits involved in these types of cases and also the fact that these cases are complex, it is important that an investigation be started quickly. Often times the evidence disappears: the ice melts, the road is fixed, the construction is completed, etc. In addition, these cases are complex and difficult to prove. Often, there is a need to hire engineers, accident reconstruction experts or other experts to prove and win these cases.

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