• Request a Consultation

    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
  • What Happens When a Road Defect Causes a Car Accident?


    Car accidents are traumatic experiences, especially when they result in serious injuries or death. Accidents that occur due to the failure to maintain or repair the roadway are often considerably more emotional, as these types of collisions are almost always preventable. 

    Utilizing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as well as other government agencies, The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation conducted an 18-month study on accidents resulting from hazardous roadways. The study concluded that car accidents caused by roadway hazards such as potholes and ice patches cause more than 42,000 deaths each year. 

    In Virginia, the CDC estimates that about seven out of every 100,000 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents each year. Many accidents are caused by poorly-maintained roads and result in a myriad of injuries, some of which lead to life-altering disabilities. 

    The at-fault driver is typically liable for injuries and property damage in a car accident. However, when the road itself is hazardous, proving your case and recovering damages becomes much more difficult.

    What Are Some Typical Road Defects or Road Design Problems?

    A multitude of conditions can cause roadways to be dangerous. Design flaws, construction, road maintenance, weather erosion, and government failure to maintain the roadways can all contribute to accidents. Commonly seen road defects include:

    • Poorly designed, faulty, or defective road construction, including the use of incorrect or defective construction materials.
    • Malfunctioning, missing, damaged, confusing, and poorly placed traffic signals and signage.
    • Missing, defective, and broken guardrails or barriers.
    • Dangerous debris not cleared from the roadway.
    • Potholes, cracks, and shifting of the road’s pavement.
    • Pavement and other road materials with inadequate skin resistance.
    • Faded, poorly maintained, or lack of proper markings in the roadway.
    • Dangerous dips, bumps, or slopes in the roadway.
    • Shoulders that drop off suddenly or are difficult to see.
    • Unannounced changes in the road surface and uneven lanes.
    • Unmaintained roads in winter, not treated with salt or other ice-melting chemicals.
    • Blind curves.
    • Landscaping, vegetation, and other hazardous obstructions along the roadway, particularly at intersections and crosswalks.
    • Inadequate lighting.
    • Low bridges and bridges with incorrect overhead markings and signage.
    • Too short entrance and exit ramps that do not allow safe merging of traffic.
    • Parking spots and policies that limit visibility at intersections.
    • Poor drainage design that results in pooling of water.
    • Dangerous drops-offs, such as cliffs or ravines, with missing or improper barriers.

    Road hazards such as these create dangerous conditions for drivers, many of which can result in serious car accidents and injuries. The most common accidents are head-on collisions, rear-end accidents, and rollover accidents.

    The local or state governments may be responsible for not designing and/or maintaining roadways.

    How Do Hazardous Roads Affect Drivers?

    Any of the aforementioned road conditions can cause even the most cautious drivers to become unsettled and injured. Drives may be affected in the following ways:

    • Confusion: Signs and roads that are poorly maintained often confuse and mislead drivers, resulting in behaviors they would not otherwise make, such as veering in and out of lanes due to faded or missing lane markings. 
    • Panic: Confusion frequently leads to panic, resulting in impulsive driving decisions, such as swerving. In heavy traffic areas, this reaction can also result in an accident involving multiple vehicles.
    • Missed warning signs and directions: Poorly placed, obstructed, or missing signage can have disastrous consequences when drivers are unable to see or follow them.
    • Property damage: Poorly-maintained roadways can also damage cars, even when there is no accident. 

    What Type of Injuries Are Caused by Dangerous Roadways?

    Poor road conditions increase the risk of accidents which can result in multiple types of injuries, such as:

    • Brain injuries.
    • Back or spinal cord injuries.
    • Head and neck injuries.
    • Amputation.
    • Organ damage.
    • Broken and fractured bones.
    • Paralysis.
    • Cuts and lacerations.

    Who Is Liable for an Accident Caused by a Road Defect?

    It is a common misconception that the federal government is responsible for all roads. Car accidents that result from poor road conditions could have multiple responsible parties, including the driver, local or state government, or the company hired to maintain them.

    Liability is determined by negligence, falling to the party who failed to uphold their duty to maintain safe roadways. Liability for hazardous public roads in Virginia is typically on the local city, county, or state government. The government’s duty is to adequately maintain roads and likely responsible for any injuries and property damage caused by a hazard. Accidents on private roads in Virginia is often the responsibility of the property owner.

    Liability of the property owner is not absolute, however, as there are exceptions. If the road condition is recent and the owner has not had adequate time to learn of and repair the condition, they may not be responsible. For example, if a tree branch falls as a driver is passing, causing an accident, the owner of the road cannot reasonably be held responsible. However, if you are able to determine that the owner knew of the potential hazard, perhaps the branch has been broken for some time, but did nothing to correct it, then liability would fall on them.

    When determining fault, keep in mind that Virginia applies contributory negligence, meaning that if your actions contributed to even one percent of the accident, you will not be allowed to recover damages. As a result, insurance companies in Virginia fight aggressively to assign any amount of fault on the driver in order to avoid paying for damages.

    Can I Sue if the Responsible Party Is a Government Entity?

    One factor that complicates assigning fault to a government entity is sovereign immunity, which dictates the entity cannot be held accountable without their permission. Sovereign immunity does not mean you have no legal options, however, and there are certain rules that allow you to sue a government for your accident. An experienced lawyer will advise you on the best course of action to recover damages for the accident.

    Fortunately, Virginia has a Tort Claims Act that allows you to file a civil lawsuit against the Commonwealth. To bring suit, you must show that a Virginia employee acted negligently, causing your accident, and your requested damages cannot exceed $100,000. In cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct, a higher damage amount may be awarded.

    Given the complexities of car accidents due to hazardous roadways in Virginia, it is highly recommended that you hire a seasoned lawyer with experience handling cases involving government entities.

    Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Advocate for Clients Injured in Crashes Due to Hazardous Roadways

    Car accidents caused by poorly-maintained roads can be intricate and difficult, especially in a contributory negligence state such as Virginia. If you have been injured in a car accident due to hazardous road conditions, our experienced Virginia Beach car accident lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC are available to help. Call us today at 757-LAW-0000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore, Virginia. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.