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Having a bad day? It's just a bump in the road. But what if that bump in the road flips your Harley Davidson on top of you, resulting in life altering injuries? Can you sue the government? That's one question Dallas Fisher, a South Carolina resident would like to have answered. He is suing the federal government for $1.7 million after nearly dying in a motorcycle accident when he hit a bump on the Blue Ridge Parkway two years ago. Approximately 14 people die each year on that stretch of dangerous road, and Fisher wants that to end.
Who Owns and Controls the Road?
The first question to figure out is who can you sue? Who owns and controls the road? Generally, local streets are maintained by local government, state routes by the state government, and interstate highways are repaired with federal dollars given to the states. In many interstate highway cases, it may get a little murky who to sue, depending on the location of the faulty road. In Fisher's case, it was a federal highway leading towards a federal park, so clearly the federal government is the targeted defendant.
Step One: File a Claim Immediately
In a lawsuit against a government entity, the first thing you must do is file a claim. This is almost always required before filing a suit against the government. Claim requirements vary greatly, but one thing they have in common is a short statue of limitations, usually 60 days or less. The general public policy for this requirement is that the government wants to know quickly if there is a faulty roadway so that they can fix it quickly, before someone else gets hurt.
Step Two: Filing a Negligence Lawsuit
If your claim is not successful, your next step is to sue the government for negligence. There are a number of different negligence claims you could file, depending on your accident. In Fisher's case, he sued for failing to properly install adequate traffic signs; failing to properly maintain safe roadways; and failing to properly warn of unsafe conditions in its roadways.
Again, there is a statute of limitations for filing this suit, but it is longer, up to three years, depending on the governmental entity you are suing. To prevail, you will need to prove all of the elements of your particular claim. Most negligence claims require proving that:
Dodging Sovereign Immunity
One of the harder things to navigate is sovereign immunity. Even if the governmental party you are suing is responsible, they may be free from having to pay for damages if they have exercised reasonable care in road maintenance. Meaning, they had to be exercising gross negligence. For instance, the government may be able to use sovereign immunity if they warned drivers about the bump in the road. In Fisher's case, there was a warning sign in the road, but it was 25 feet before the bump, and the standard length to warn for a bump at highway speeds is 100 feet. Also on Fisher's side is the unfortunate fact that 14 people die every year on that stretch of road, and so the government definitely should have known it was dangerous, and failing to repair it may very well be gross negligence.
Every accident is unique. If you have been the victim of an accident you believe was caused from improper road maintenance, call a personal injury lawyer that specializes in car accidents immediately. Time may be of the essence in filing a claim with the government, and failure to do so may preclude being able to file a suit. An experienced attorney will be able to listen to your facts, potentially at no cost to you, and know exactly how to proceed.