When a serious motor vehicle accident causes devastating injuries or death, determining fault is not always easy. One driver may bear sole responsibility, each driver may be partially at fault or there may have been environmental factors that caused or contributed to the crash.
When the roadway is poorly designed, in disrepair or in need of maintenance, Caltrans or local governments may be held liable for a motor vehicle accident that occurs as a result. A recent case is a good example.
In August 2012, a woman was driving on Highway 50 in West Sacramento when her car broke down. She attempted to pull off to the shoulder, which should normally have at least an eight-foot safety zone. Unfortunately, overgrown oleander bushes prevented her from fully pulling off the road and her car was partially stuck in a travel lane.
As she waited for help, another driver violently rear-ended her vehicle. The woman, who is in her mid-60s, does not remember the crash or the three weeks following it. She awoke in the hospital after several major surgeries. She will likely be disabled for the rest of her life and has already amassed more than $2 million in medical bills.
At first blush, it may seem like the driver who stuck her could have been at fault. But according to his attorney, the overgrown bushes made it appear as though the stopped vehicle ahead of him was completely out of his lane.
The most likely scenario, according to the victim’s attorney, is that Caltrans is at fault because it failed to trim the oleander bushes and keep the shoulder clear for stopped vehicles.
Although Caltrans admits no wrongdoing, it recently settled the lawsuit for $9.75 million. Since the accident, Caltrans has also significantly trimmed the oleander bushes, including up to a dozen feet beyond the outer travel lane.
With all of the difficult and expensive maintenance work that Caltrans is responsible for, this fix would have been cheap and easy. It also could have prevented this terrible and tragic accident.
If you’ve been in a car accident and don’t know who may be liable, please discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Source: Insurance News Net, “Caltrans pays $9.75 million to Sacramento woman in crash involving overgrown oleander,” Tony Bizjak, Feb. 28, 2015