Tennessee Court Fails to Find State Construction and Maintenance of Roads Defective

When auto accidents occur, most drivers are quick to point fault at another driver, unforeseen distractions in the road, or defects in their vehicle. However, negligence can also arise due to the construction and maintenance of the road itself. For instance, intersections may be constructed in such a manner so that visibility is limited, or a large danger in the road may not be corrected. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, a plaintiff argued that the State’s failure to properly maintain a road over years of wear and tear also created a defective condition that led to her car accident.

The case arose out of a car accident that occurred in October 2012. DE was exiting the highway when she turned onto a curved exit ramp. As the ramp transitioned to road, the surface turned from concrete to asphalt. As DE’s car made this transition, her wheels lost traction and spun out of control. Her car veered off of the road and down an incline, where she was injured. DE filed a notice of claim with the Tennessee Division of Claims, which handles claims against the State. DE alleged that the State had been negligent in maintaining the road and patching the transition from concrete to asphalt. The State denied liability.

During a trial before the Claims Commissioner, DE presented evidence that multiple other drivers had been in accidents similar to hers and that police officers had noticed that, when wet, this ramp transition appeared to cause difficulty for drivers. The police officer who arrived at the scene of DE’s accident testified that nothing appeared to be wrong with her vehicle and the road had holes, bumps, and ruts, from weathering and time. DE also presented testimony from an expert who stated that he had examined the site and found pavement distress, and irregular pavement that could cause a car to lose traction. He called this irregular pavement a defect, but also testified that patching it with asphalt was one way to address the problem. In response, the State provided testimony from two expert engineers at the Tennessee Department of Transportation who testified that the road was constructed in accordance with national safety standards and it continued to meet those standards.

After the trial, the Claims Commissioner entered an order for the State finding that DE had not proven that the State was negligent in designing, constructing, or maintaining the road. DE appealed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals addressed whether DE had established a claim of negligence. It noted that States do not have a duty under negligence standards to maintain roads perfectly. Rather, they must only show reasonable care. Here, the Court of Appeals found that while DE showed that bumps and irregular paving existed in the road, she did not show that this was the result of the State’s failure to exercise reasonable care in constructing, designing, or maintaining the road. It noted that both DE and the State’s experts testified that patching holes and issues with asphalt was an acceptable form of maintenance of the road. In light of this evidence, the Court of Appeals held that it could not find that DE had proven her negligence claims. It affirmed the Claims Commissioner.

When dealing with negligence claims, plaintiffs cannot forget the importance of establishing a connection between the defect or bad act that occurred and the duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff. While bad things do happen, if they are not related to the responsibilities of the defendant, a negligence claim cannot be established. Experienced Tennessee car accident attorney Eric Beasley can help you develop a strategy for effectively showing a jury the duties you were owed by the defendant and how they were breached. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Emphasizes That Dangerous Conditions Must Actually Cause Harm, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 3, 2017.

Sixth Circuit Overturns Harsh Pleading Standard in Auto Accident Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 6, 2016.

The Necessity of Proving Causation in Tennessee Auto Accident Claims -Denton v. Taylor, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, August 18, 2016.


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