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Can Injury Victims File Lawsuits Against Municipalities for Accidents Caused by Potholes?

2014-05-05 Auto Accidents

The 2013-14 winter season has been unusually challenging for Pennsylvania drivers. Most cite the high outbreak of potholes as a significant issue. These craters in the road that seem to pop up overnight have caused blown tires and other significant damage to countless vehicles. Motorcyclists, bicyclists and even pedestrians can easily sustain severe injuries in an accident involving potholes. Most motorists rely on their insurance policies to help pay for damage to their cars. However, when a pothole encounter causes injuries, victims may want to take legal action — particularly when medical costs exceed their policy limits.

Historically, municipalities in Pennsylvania benefitted from immunity from liability in civil actions such as personal injury cases. Now the legislation carves out exceptions to the immunity rule. According to the Pennsylvania Legislator’s Municipal Deskbook, one of those exceptions involves street-related negligence. Still, the burden of proof falls to accident victims, and many questions such as the following can work against them:

  • How long did the pothole exist? Victims who can prove the hole existed long enough to reasonably expect the municipality to patch it might have a viable case. If the accident occurred within 24 hours of the pothole developing, chances of successful litigation decrease substantially.
  • Has anyone filed a complaint about the hole? Prior notification can make a difference in substantiating a claim of municipal negligence.
  • Could the driver reasonably have avoided the hole? The law requires drivers to exercise a degree of caution. If you could have easily avoided the only hole on the street, you may be liable for your own actions. If the road was covered with holes, you may have a case.

Keep in mind that municipal liability cases do not typically result in the same amount of compensation as cases against private parties. For example, a municipality might be required to pay only for the expenses not paid by insurance coverage. Before heading to the courts in Lancaster County, it is important to discuss the details of any auto accident case with a knowledgeable attorney who can predict the outcome.

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