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    Road and Bridge Defects

    In a recent case handled by Kopfler & Hermann we represented the family of a specialty truck driver working on a highway bridge when his vehicle was struck from behind. The truck he was operating went over the bridge rail into a body of water. Although the specialty truck driver survived the impact, he drowned before he could be rescued.

    The governing authority responsible for the bridge defended the case on the grounds that the railings for the bridge were at a proper height at the time the bridge was built in the 1950’s. The law of the State of Louisiana provides that a governing authority cannot escape liability by simply showing that a highway, bridge, or shoulder met existing standards when it was built. The liability of the governing body is determined on the basis of whether the condition of the highway, bridge, or shoulder constituted an unreasonable risk of injury which caused the accident. While the design standards at the time of the original construction may be a relevant factor, they are not determinative of the issue. The injured party must prove that the governing party had custody of the thing that caused the injured person’s harm, or the thing was defective because it had a condition that created an unreasonable risk of harm, the governing body had actual or constructive knowledge of the defect but did not take corrective measures, and the defect was a cause in fact of the injured person’s harm.

    Key factors in the case handled by Kopfler & Hermann were that for a period of over (20) years there had been multiple over-boards on the bridge with resulting drowning deaths.

    Governing bodies are required to adopt minimum safety standards regarding highway design, bridge design, construction, and maintenance.

    Vehicular accidents involving roadway and bridge dangers involve a comparison of fault of the operator of a vehicle with the governing body responsible for the maintenance of bridges, shoulders, and highways. Louisiana has a commonsense approach in comparing the fault of all individuals and governing bodies involved.  The analysis of comparative fault involves:

    • Whether the conduct of an operator or the governing body was inadvertent or involved an awareness of danger;
    • How great of a risk was created by the conduct;
    • The significance of what was sought by the conduct;
    • The capacity of actors; and
    • Any extenuating factors which might require the actors to proceed with haste without proper thought.

    In cases of defective highways, shoulders, and bridges, if the governing body had experienced similar injuries and death as a result of defects or conditions of its roads, highways, shoulders, or bridges, that would be a significant factor, particularly where the vehicle’s operators’ fault may have been inadvertent. In cases where it can be shown that the governing body was aware of the danger, the courts compare fault more favorably as against the governing body.

    If you or a loved one have been involved in a motor vehicle accident where it appears that a roadway, shoulder or bridge was defective, contact Kopfler & Hermann so that we can investigate, analyze the facts and advise you accordingly.