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Road Defects (Traffic Signal Malfunction, Negligent Road Design, Etc.)

As discussed previously, a potential cause of a pedestrian collision is a road defect. These types of cases very often fall into two general categories: traffic signal malfunctions and negligent road design. When evaluating whether or not a road defect case exists, the first thing which an attorney should do is evaluate the entities, private and public, which were responsible for the defect. Very often, public roadways are constructed by private entities who have entered into contracts with local governments and state governments. Such entities do not have the cloak of sovereign immunity, which are often present for government entities. Accordingly, they are ripe for suit arising out of negligence in creating a road defect.

With respect to the faulty operation of a traffic signal, there are often several layers of private entities involved in the construction. First, there is a general contractor who is responsible for the overall project. The general contractor then subcontracts to various entities for the construction of the actual roadway, the installation of traffic control devices, the designing of the programs or sequences for the traffic control devices, and the implementation of the design for the timing of the traffic control signals. All of these entities may play a role in the malfunction which may cause a pedestrian collision. Their role may be active, such as improperly programing a traffic control device. Likewise, they may have a more passive, but equally liable role with respect to the traffic signal malfunction such as the failure to properly inspect the work performed by other sub-contractors involved on the project. Wong v. City and County of Honolulu, Altec Corp, Amfac, Inc., Econolite Corp, et al., 66 Haw. 389, 665 P.2d 157 (1983) (city and defendants involved with the installation, maintenance and repair of malfunctioning traffic signal may be held liable for pedestrian’s injuries). When faced with a traffic signal malfunction case, it is seldom possible for an attorney to resolve all issues in the case without instituting litigation. Generally, the roles of the various entities and any negligence of specific individuals can only be explored after an attorney has filed suit and engaged in both paper discovery and depositions.

Another ripe area for road defects is the failure to properly place a crosswalk or appropriate signage on the road in well-known areas of pedestrian crossings. Again, private entities can be involved in this setting when local governments contract out what is usually a government function involved in deciding on the roadway signs which shall be placed. However, it is usually a government entity that has failed to properly design an intersection with due consideration for use by pedestrians. An attorney investigating these type of matters should evaluate the manuals and protocols with which the department of transportation has put in place for intersections. Very often, pedestrian accidents in high traffic intersections occur because a department of transportation has violated its own practices. See Wooten Wooten vs. South Carolina Department of Transportation, 326 S.C. 516, 485 Se.2d 119 (1997) (State department of transportation may be held liable for failing to follow its own practices in designing pedestrian crossings for busy intersection). It should also be noted that failure to properly maintain the area around pedestrian signage can result in a finding of negligence against the responsible government entity or private company hired to maintain the area. Physicians Plus Insurance Corp v. Midwest Mutual Insurance Company. 254 Wis.2d 77, 646 N.W.2d 777 (2002) (vegetation hiding traffic signage was basis for liability of government and private entity).

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