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Road Construction Caused My Accident, Who Is Liable?

Gene Riddle   |  January 22, 2019   |  

Road construction is dangerous for construction workers and drivers alike. Although construction is necessary to repair and maintain North Carolina’s roadways, it can cause more harm than good while projects are underway. Crews too close to the road, uneven shoulders, confusing detours, bright lights, and road defects such as trenches and debris can all cause car accidents. In 2015, an estimated 96,626 car accidents occurred in work zones. Assigning liability for a road construction accident may lead to compensation for injured victims.

Construction Company Liability

It is a construction company’s legal responsibility to ensure the reasonable safety of its work zones. The company overseeing the project, along with its construction site managers, must take steps to help prevent car accidents. These steps may include posting appropriate warning signs, keeping equipment out of the road, and creating safe detours around road work. Breaching the duty to keep a work zone reasonably safe, resulting in a car accident, is negligence.

A construction company could be liable for damages if it, as a company, negligently fails to prevent a car accident at a work zone. The company could also absorb liability if one of its employees contributed to the crash. If, for example, a construction worker carelessly left building debris in the roadway, and this caused a tire blowout and car accident, the construction company could be vicariously liable for the negligence of its employee. Construction company liability will generally come down to a claim against the company’s insurance provider.

In a case we are handling right now, the road construction company failed to place the proper warning signs in the proper places on an interstate highway.  The company negligently required traffic to merge from the left lane to the right lane at a location where a merge was completely unnecessary.  As a result, traffic backed up and blocked drivers’ line of sight.  The truck drivers involved were required to make life or death decisions in a matter of seconds.  One truck driver managed to change lanes, but the other truck driver did not have time to react and slammed into a pick-up killing an entire family.  If the construction company had followed the regulations set out by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, this wreck could have been avoided. Settlement was concluded with the truck drivers under the terms of a confidentiality clause, but the case is proceeding against the negligent construction company.

City Liability

On public roadways in North Carolina, the city or municipality may be liable for damages. This could be the case if the crash stemmed from a poorly designed roadway, road defects such as potholes or eroded areas, lack of proper barriers or medians, damaged guardrails, overgrown vegetation, unsafe surfaces, or not enough warning signs leading up to the construction zone.

If the city or state owns the land on which the crash occurred, and it (or one of its employees) was negligent in some way that contributed to the wreck, the city could be liable for damages. The North Carolina Tort Claims Act allows citizens to file lawsuits against the government in certain situations. If the government or one of its officers or agents acting within the scope of employment was the proximate cause of the car accident, a victim could seek damages to cover medical and other expenses.

Claims against the government, however, are different from typical lawsuits in most states. In North Carolina, a plaintiff has three years from the date of the crash to bring an injury or property damage claim against the government or two years for a wrongful death claim. Victims must file their claims with the state Industrial Commission rather than the local county claims court.

Product Manufacturer Liability

Some construction zone accidents stem from dangerous, defective, or malfunctioning products. If a piece of heavy construction equipment malfunctions and drives into the road, for example, it could cause a car accident. Likewise, defective brakes on a passenger vehicle could make it impossible for a driver to safely stop in time to prevent a collision in a construction zone. If a defective product contributes to the car accident, the victim may have a product liability claim against the item’s manufacturer or distributor.

Third Party Liability

A third party, such as another driver or a subcontractor, could be responsible for damages if that party caused the crash. If an Uber driver was speeding through a construction zone, for example, and this caused your accident, Uber could absorb liability for your medical bills. Several factors and negligent parties may have contributed to your recent road construction accident in North Carolina. Many construction zone cases involve the shared fault of more than one party. Seek an injury attorney’s counsel for more information about liability in your particular case.