DeKalb County Jury Awards $7.6 Million to Cycling Accident Victim Because of Faulty Roadway
While we have previously discussed some of the issues involved in cycling accidents caused by roadway defects, the best way to understand these issues may be in the context of an actual personal injury lawsuit. For example, a DeKalb County jury returned a $7.6 million verdict against the Georgia Department of Transportation and other defendants when a bicyclist suffered serious injury in a crash alleged caused by a roadway hazard.
A cyclist was on a ride with about a dozen other bicyclists when his bike tire got wedged in an open longitudinal joint on a bridge causing the rider to be ejected. He sued the Georgia Department of Transportation, the contractor and the design engineer based on allegations of negligent design and construction of the roadway.
The plaintiff and several other cyclists that were riding in the bicycle lane on the right side of the roadway crossed to the left side of the two left turn lanes near where the road ended. An open longitudinal joint ran along about 300 feet of the roadway just inside the left most of the two left turn lanes. The joint is about 34 feet away from the bicycle lane. The plaintiff would not have encountered the joint had he remained in the bicycle lane. While the design specifications for the joint indicated it was only supposed to allow for a one inch gap, the company that did the work installed a joint with a 2.5 inch gap. The DOT requested that the joint be installed to limit vibrations from one end of the bridge to the other.
On the day of the cycling accident, the plaintiff's bike tire got stuck in the gap, forcing the plaintiff to be ejected from his bicycle. He suffered serious injury to his spine that required surgery on his C4 through C7 vertebrae. He experienced a fractured collarbone, head injuries, a neck fracture and PTSD. He indicated that his injuries prevented him from engaging in normal activities like running, cycling and working. He also suffered constant pain in his hands, left leg and left foot. Because of his weakened legs, he also indicated suffering frequent falls. His past medical bills were $500,000.
Plaintiff presumably complied with tort claims act requirements by giving notice and complying with the special timing requirements before filing suit against the State of Georgia along with the other defendants named in the lawsuit. The bike accident victim alleged that Georgia DOT and CW Mathews, the contractor, were negligent because they built the joint wider than the design specifications. The plaintiff also alleged that the state and Arcadis, the design company, should not have designed a roadway with an open longitudinal joint in any of the traffic lanes. The plaintiff also presented evidence that Georgia DOT was negligent in failing to provide a warning or to repair the hazard after learning of a similar prior accident.
The defendants offered several arguments. The company that designed the joint argued that no similarly situated design firm would expect bicyclists to maneuver into the far left lanes if a road has a bicycle lane. The design company also contended that the design that was built by the DOT and the contractor was not the design created by the design company because of the difference in the width of the gap. The design company also alleged that the plaintiff failed to exercise reasonable care for his own safety by remaining within the bicycle lane.
The jury returned a verdict for $7.6 million and apportioned sixty percent of the fault to the Georgia DOT and forty percent to the engineering company. However, the Daily Report that published a summary of the case indicated that the Georgia Tort Claims Act limited the state's exposure in the case to one million dollars, so the award was reduced to $4,040,000. The verdict has been appealed.
This case demonstrates many of the complex issues that arise in a bicycle accident lawsuit against a public entity because of a defective roadway. The Georgia Tort Claims Act can impose special deadlines that are shorter than the applicable statute of limitations; additional procedures like notice to the public entity before filing suit; and potential financial limitations on the amount of financial recovery against the public entity. These cases also often raise questions regarding prior notice of the hazard to the public entity arising from previous similar accidents and apportionment of fault between multiple parties.
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If you or your loved one is involved in a serious cycling accident or other motor vehicle collision caused by a hazardous roadway, you might have a legal claim against the public entity tasked with the design, construction or maintenance of the road. Because cases against public entities raise unique legal issues and necessitate compliance with special procedures and can involve shorter legal time deadlines, you should seek legal advice promptly. Montlick and Associates has been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.