Did Environmental Factors Contribute to Your Car Accident?
Was your car accident caused by an obstructed view, weather conditions, poor road design or signals and signs malfunctioning or not being present?
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Dangerous road conditions that contribute to accidents
- Weather conditions as a factor in car accidents
- Human and man-made factors that can contribute to car accidents
- Possible defendants
- Special considerations when litigating against a government entity
- The role comparative fault plays in car accidents involving environmental factors
- Evidence you should expect to be presented in your car accident lawsuit
- Damages that can be recovered
Over the past few decades, the population explosion in Florida has dramatically increased the number of cars on our roads and highways.
Aside from the elevated risk that comes with more vehicles sharing the road, the increased traffic loads wear on our infrastructure. As the state struggles to support population growth, shortcuts may be taken in the construction and repair of roads and highways.
In addition to crumbling infrastructure and poorly designed roads, weather events, roadway debris, visual obstructions, and other distractions are all examples of environmental factors that can contribute to a car accident.
Dangerous Road Conditions That Contribute to Car Accidents
Many accidents on Florida’s highways can be attributed to poor road design and/or neglect, including the following:
- Potholes, dips, or cracks in the road surface, faulty speed bumps, or uneven pavement
- Dangerous or improperly graded curves
- Road signs obscured by overgrown trees or other foliage
- Medians, traffic islands, or road signs that are difficult to see at night
- Unmarked “blind” road entries
- Blind corners caused by a faulty design
- Malfunctioning stop lights at intersections
- Yield or stop signs at intersections where a traffic light would be more appropriate
- Distracting road signals, absence of warning signs, or confusing road signs
- Faded lane markings, including center lines, edge lines, or turn lanes
- Damaged or deteriorating overpasses or bridges
- Insufficient road shoulder
- Lack of rumble strips on highways
- Ditches placed too close to the roadway
- Flooded roads due to improper drainage or clogged drains
- Improperly designed or situated guardrails
- Poor placement of utility poles
- Obstructions such as fallen trees or disabled vehicles
- Inadequate control of traffic in construction zones (e.g., improperly placed barricades, barrels, or cones)
To the extent that a government entity has not exercised its duty of care in discovering or repairing dangerous road conditions, it may be liable for damages when accidents result.
Inclement Weather as a Contributing Environmental Factor in Car Collisions
Inclement weather by itself doesn’t cause accidents. Instead, it contributes by creating hazardous conditions:
- Slippery roads can increase the time and distance it takes to stop.
- Blowing roadway debris and water-filled potholes can cause swerve risks or tire blowouts.
- Heavy rain and fog can reduce visibility on improperly maintained roadways.
On the other hand, driving safely in adverse conditions requires attentiveness and skill, which means human error can contribute to car accidents during poor weather. Examples include:
- Driving too fast for inclement weather conditions
- Oversteering when skidding on pavement or avoiding road debris
- Exceeding the posted speed limit in fog or rain or when rounding a sharp curve
Police generally include environmental factors, such as weather and road conditions, in accident reports.
RELATED: Rear-End Collisions in Florida
When weather and road conditions are documented as contributing factors in a collision, insurance companies can use this information to shift blame away from the at-fault driver and minimize the value of your claim.
This being the case, your accident should be thoroughly investigated to uncover evidence of the other driver’s negligence. This evidence may include electronic records of cellphone use, roadside tire marks, and additional information from the police report.
Human and Man-Made Factors That Can Contribute to a Car Accident
Inclement weather and dangerous road conditions aren’t the only environmental causes for car accidents.
There can be distractions, such as pedestrian traffic, which can make it difficult to maneuver or force a driver to take quick action resulting in a collision. There can be overgrown foliage from an adjacent property that conceals or camouflages traffic signs and signals, making them difficult to see and obey. There can also be roadway obstructions caused by an illegally parked car or moving van, that effectively shuts a lane without notice.
Potential Defendants in Environmental Factor Lawsuits
To establish grounds for holding certain entities financially liable, it’s essential to determine whether negligence played a role in the accident. In every one of the examples listed above, the environmental factors involved were, at least in part, caused by negligence.
Potential defendants in lawsuits alleging distraction or visual obstruction could include:
- Property owners
- Owners of illegally parked vehicles
- Employers of at-fault third-party drivers
Potential defendants in lawsuits alleging dangerous and defective roads include:
- County government
- State government
- Engineering firms
- Utility companies
- Road Contractors and the like
Note: When a pattern of accidents is evident at a particular intersection or along a specific stretch of highway, this may indicate that the road has been poorly maintained, local government has failed to address hazards on or near the roadway, the road’s layout or construction is inherently dangerous, or defects resulting from wear and tear haven’t been promptly or adequately addressed.
Lawsuits Against Government Entities: Special Considerations
The maintenance of roads, highways, and bridges is generally the responsibility of county, state, or federal governments. When unsafe road conditions result in accidents and injuries, the applicable government entity may be held liable for damages.
Numerous state and federal laws impose road safety standards and design requirements. These statutes define how and when construction should be performed and what types of hazard warnings must be provided to drivers.
Asserting a claim is relatively straightforward if a contractor is accountable for the dangerous conditions that contributed to your accident. However, bringing a claim against the government can be much more complicated (there are special notice requirements that may need to be satisfied before filing a lawsuit – see below).
Additionally, certain government agencies are immune from civil litigation through sovereign immunity, meaning that they generally can’t be sued for damages by a third party (and there are damage limits on some claims against governmental entities). However, under the Federal Tort Claims Act, citizens injured due to unsafe roads may sue the federal government for negligence and seek compensation for their losses. Florida Statute 768.28 also authorizes claims against state government, with damage limits.
Note: To file a claim against Florida governmental agencies, you must notify the responsible government agency within three years of the accident.
How Can I Prove That a Government Entity’s Negligence Contributed to My Car Accident?
Even if the road was in poor condition at the time of your accident, it doesn’t necessarily mean the government can be held responsible. To hold government entities accountable for your accident, and to find it negligent, you must establish three things:
- The government was aware—or should have been aware—of the dangerous condition. If the condition developed immediately before your accident, there might not be enough intervening time for the government to be held liable.
- The government failed to take reasonable action to remedy the hazard or warn the public. If the government hasn’t conducted regular inspections of the area, but such inspections would have revealed the condition in a timely manner, the government may be held liable.
- The accident occurred because of the road’s poor condition. It must be established that the condition was the direct cause of the accident or that the accident wouldn’t have occurred in the absence of the condition.
What Role Does Comparative Fault Play in Car Accidents Involving Environmental Factors?
Once liability for the accident is established, a judge or jury may apportion fault by determining whether the Injured party’s actions contributed in any way to the accident.
Florida Statute 768.81 allows the allocation of fault among the parties to a lawsuit. If it’s determined that the parties share some degree of liability, the damages awarded will be adjusted accordingly. For example, if a judge determines that the injured party was 20% at fault, the judge will reduce the amount of compensation by 20%.
What Evidence Will Be Presented in this Type of Car Accident Lawsuit?
While the evidence presented will depend on the facts of your case, evidence in a lawsuit alleging that environmental factors contributed to your car accident typically includes the following:
- Expert Testimony – accident reconstructionist, economist, and medical specialists
- Visual presentations of the accident scene
- Your deposition or testimony and the testimony of experts and witnesses
- Photographs of your injuries and the damages to your vehicle and at-fault driver’s car
- Police report summarizing the facts and the officer’s observations
- Road surveys and accident statistics (to help determine whether the government was aware or should have been aware of the hazardous road condition)
- Medical, hospital, and rehabilitation records and bills
- Estimates of future medical costs
- Vehicle maintenance and repair records
Recovery of Damages
If you and your lawyer prove your case, you may be compensated financially for your injuries and damage to your property. Compensatory damages can include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Emergency room expenses
- Costs of surgery
- Medical bills
- Future medical costs
- Loss of wages and future earnings – even if you were unemployed or underemployed at the time of the accident
- Diminished earning capacity
- Damage to your vehicle/property
- Loss of Consortium
- Pain and suffering
- And all other economic and non-economic damages
In limited cases, punitive damages may be awarded.
If the accident caused the death of a loved one, you could bring a lawsuit for wrongful death to obtain:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Compensation for financial losses
- Compensation for loss of companionship and support
Call Alan Sackrin Today to Get a Free Case Evaluation – (954) 458-8655
If you or a loved one are injured because environmental factors contributed to your car accident, talk with a personal injury lawyer who has years of experience handling car accident cases, and one who has spent 38 years evaluating accident facts, applying the law, and effectively asking juries to render a favorable verdict for his clients.
Alan Sackrin offers a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions. When you’re ready to speak with a personal injury lawyer about your case, give Alan a call at 945-458-8655.