Accident Caused by a Pothole: What Happens Next?
If you are a motorist in Massachusetts, then encounters with potholes are nothing new. Massachusetts has been ranked as the worst state in the Union if you combine traffic and infrastructure with the Bay State. If you only consider infrastructure, we may not be the worst although our state was given a D+ grade by the American Society of Civil Engineers for 2017.
Potholes are ubiquitous in our state given the extremes of weather. Roads develop cracks over time allowing moisture from rain and snow to accumulate. When the moisture freezes, the ice expands, enlarging the crack until a pothole results.
Potholes can damage your vehicle and cause thousands of dollars in property claims. Nothing feels worse than hearing and feeling the crunch as your car hits a pot hole, likely warning you that your car will now need body work. However, if you hit the pothole at a high rate of speed, you may also lose control of your vehicle and risk being in an accident, possibly causing injuries.
Use Caution Around Potholes
There are some safety measures you can use when encountering potholes:
- Slow down on urban streets or in bad weather so that you can see the pothole and go around it. If you cannot avoid it, then enter it slowly and cautiously
- Do not tailgate. If the car in front of you hits a pothole, you will have time to avoid it
- If you see a puddle, assume it is a pothole
- If you hit the pothole at a high rate of speed, hold onto the steering wheel so as to avoid going into an adjoining lane
- Do not brake while in the pothole or you car may sustain more damage
- Keep your tires properly inflated as this will minimize any damage
Injured by a Pothole? Good Luck!
If you injured by the negligence of another person or entity, then you are entitled to compensation for any damages you sustain. Regarding potholes, injuries as well as property damage can occur when a car hits a pothole at a high rate of speed and the driver loses control. Roads are generally maintained by the city, county or state, although private businesses service their own parking lots for instance. All of these entities have a duty to maintain these roads in good condition and to periodically inspect them.
Private Property and Business Owners
If you are driving or are a passenger and your vehicle strikes a pothole in a private parking area or other private property and your car is damaged and/or results in injuries to you, then you may have a premises liability claim against the business owner. However, the owner must have had either direct or constructive notice of the pothole. If someone advised the owner of the pothole, then the owner has direct notice. If you can show that the pothole has been there for some time and that the owner in the exercise of reasonable care should have been aware of it, then the owner has had constructive notice.
In such cases, take photographs of the pothole and the damage to your vehicle. Your car accident lawyer may also have a highway expert examine the pothole to determine how long the hole was probably there. In some cases, the business owner may have prior damage claims against it for the same pothole. Once you can prove that notice of the pothole was evident, either directly or constructively, and that the owner failed to remedy the hazard within a reasonable time, then you may recover compensation for your damages.
Should your accident occur on a public roadway, you still have to prove that the municipality responsible for maintaining the roadway had direct or constructive notice and failed to act within a reasonable time. You also have only 30-days to put the municipality on written notice of your claim. If you fail to do so, you are barred from recovering any damages from this entity.
According to Massachusetts law, however, you are also limited in your damages to $5000, regardless of the amount of your property damage or injuries. This cap on damages stems from the common law practice of sovereign immunity whereby claimants were barred from seeking damages from the state or any of its subdivisions.
Further limiting your claim for damages is the requirement that you not be at fault in any manner or degree for the accident. Generally, Massachusetts is a pure comparative negligence state whereby you can recover compensation from another party so long as that party was at least 1% at fault. In cases involving municipalities and their duty to maintain its public ways in a careful and diligent manner, you cannot have been liable at all for the accident if it involves a pothole. For example, if you were driving too fast for conditions (rain, snow, sleet, fog, or road construction), or was engaged in making an unsafe lane change or illegal U-turn when you hit the pothole, you are barred from any recovery from the city.
In any event, talk to a car accident lawyer if you were injured to explore your legal options.
Damages in a Pothole Accident
Your damages in a pothole accident can be more than just property-related. If you were injured, then your damages may include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Diminished or lost earning capacity
- Permanent disability
- Permanent disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Diminished enjoyment of life
- Emotional trauma
- Spousal loss of consortium
Retain the Law Office of Burns and Jain
Pothole accidents often involve complex issues of liability and proof of damages. By retaining an experienced car accident lawyer, you are giving yourself the best opportunity for obtaining the most compensation for your injury. Call the attorneys at the Law Offices of Burns and Jain if you or a loved one was involved in a pothole accident or any other accident to discuss how we can help.