Most crashes occur because a driver made a mistake. However, sometimes, the way the roadway or traffic is designed or constructed can play a role in either causing an accident or amplifying the severity.
In such cases, car accident victims may be able to secure compensation from the public agency responsible, and potentially from contractors who may have worked with that agency on the project.
In the case of Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transportation, the issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court was whether there were sufficient issues of material fact for plaintiffs to proceed with their claim that a defective repair of a bridge caused them to spin out-of-control and suffer injuries. The court ruled there was, and that a statement by the couple’s daughter-in-law regarding a conversation she had with transportation department officials at the scene of the crash was admissible in court – even though the workers hadn’t been authorized by their employer to make those statements.
Here’s what happened, according to court records:
Plaintiffs – husband and wife – were driving over a bridge that had recently undergone repairs. As they approached, there were no warning lights or indications that there was anything unsafe about the structure or the roadway. But as they crossed, the undercarriage of their vehicle got caught on two metal plates that were crisscrossed and sticking up from the road. This caused the driver to spin out of control and both vehicle occupants suffered injury. They called for help, and when their daughter-in-law got word, she rushed to the scene.
Plaintiffs were taken to a local hospital by ambulance. Meanwhile, daughter-in-law had a conversation with several DOT workers who responded to the scene. They let her know that earlier in the day, the agency had received a complaint about the metal bars sticking up in the road. They showed her where the plates were crossed over drying concrete, indicated this was improper construction and advised her to take a picture of it.
Of course, this is highly unusual. Typically, employees of the agency that might be held liable aren’t going to speak to victims to urge photographic evidence. But this is a good example of why, if it’s at all possible, photographic evidence of the scene helps.
Daughter-in-law did get evidence and later, when plaintiffs sued and the construction crew supervisor was deposed, he conceded improper construction.
However, defendant/ DOT argued it should be granted summary judgment on sovereign immunity grounds because bridge repair was a discretionary function (rather than a ministerial one). Further, the agency asserted the failure-to-warn claim by plaintiff couldn’t be proven because there was no evidence the agency itself had notice of the danger, and secondly, the statement by the daughter-in-law amounted to hearsay because those who spoke to her weren’t authorized to do so.
Trial court agreed. Appellate court reversed in part, ruling bridge repair is a ministerial function, but still finding the failure-to-warn claim insufficient without the statement of daughter-in-law, which was hearsay.
The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part – all in plaintiff’s favor. Bridge repair is a ministerial function for which a government agency can be liable. Further, it didn’t matter that the workers who spoke with daughter-in-law weren’t authorized to do so – her statement was still allowed.
That means this car accident lawsuit will now proceed to the trial phase.
Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.
Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transportation, Sept. 10, 2015, Mississippi Supreme Court
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Side Underride Guards Subject of Truck Accident Lawsuit, Sept. 7, 2015, Montgomery Car Accident Attorney Blog