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Liability for Recurring Weather-Related Road Hazards

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who said his car spun out and overturned when his car hit a patch of ice under an overpass bridge.  He suffered a spinal fracture and other serious injuries.  He wanted to know his legal rights.

As we have noted in other episodes, the Indiana Tort Claims Act requires timely notice to a government subdivision to succeed with a suit against the government in Indiana.

But, the Act does much more.  It grants governmental immunity for injuries resulting from a temporary condition of a public roadway caused by the weather.

But just what is the meaning of the word temporary?  The caller mentioned what happened to him to friends, and he was told that ice always builds up at the place under the overpass where he wiped out.  Apparently, melting snow is known to refreeze where it drains down from the overpass and hits the cold pavement below.

The law is that a condition is not temporary if the government fails to remedy a known, existing defect in a public roadway despite an opportunity to do so.  In other words, immunity does not apply where a defect manifests during recurring inclement weather events.

Accordingly, the caller who struck the recurring patch of ice just might have a valid case.  Other non-temporary situations might include a recurring flooded area of a highway.

But before anyone gets too excited, the government only has to post a warning of the dangerous condition to protect itself from suit.

Still, posting a sign where a recurring condition could have timely been repaired may nevertheless result in a court upholding an injury claim against the government.

A critical factor in every case of this nature: did the government have time to respond.

Suppose that flooding develops on a roadway due to unforeseen blockage of a drainage ditch.  Still, further, assume that the storm is so bad that no worker for the state can get out in the storm to post a flood warning sign.  In such a situation, successfully suing might be very difficult.

I hope you found this information helpful.  If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions.  You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”