Road Defect Caused Car, Bike, or Motorcycle Accident?

San Francisco Injury Attorney Investigates Negligent Road Design and Maintenance

Video Transcript:

Claude Wyle:

We get cases almost every week where somebody has gone down because the pavement was bad.

Rob Rosenthal:

So how do you know if your crash with injuries in your car or on your motorcycle might have been caused by a dangerous roadway, and what can you do about that? That's what we're gonna find out right now, because that's what we're going to Ask the Lawyer today on this episode. Hi again, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers.com, and my guest is San Francisco attorney Claude Wyle. Want to remind you right off the top, if you wanna talk to Claude and ask him questions about your situation, just go to AskTheLawyers.com, click the button at the top that says Ask a Lawyer, or you can just call the phone number that's on the screen while we're talking to Claude. Claude, it's always good to catch up with you. Thank you for making some time for us.

Claude Wyle:

Great to spend time with you, Rob, thanks for... Thanks for interviewing me. I've got a lot to say about dangerous roads.

Rob Rosenthal:

Oh, good. Because my first thought is, I bet most people, they don't even stop to think that the roads that we travel on every single day could be dangerous in and of themselves. Obviously, we're used to other people being on the roads and making them dangerous. So how big of a problem is that, specifically in California, are dangerous roads an issue? 

Claude Wyle:

Dangerous roads in California are a significantly huge issue. Over the years, the roadways in California have deteriorated to the point where they're actually not even top half in terms of good roads, they're actually bottom half. California roadways are just not good. They are managed by cities, counties, states, Parks Department, and we even have private roadways in places like golf courses, most of them have fallen into some state of disrepair, and these problems on the roadway can end up causing or at least contributing to substantial injury crashes. 

Rob Rosenthal:

So let's talk about what the problems are, dangerous how? Is it all just crumbling infrastructure or is it some design issues? How are they dangerous?

Claude Wyle:

Well, both, there's many different issues that can happen. I'd say that most of the issues we have are maintenance issues, that the public entities generally try to do their best, but the maintenance of our California roads is not up to par, and we have a lot of problems with the pavement, and as you know, I represent a lot of motorcyclists and bicyclists, and we get cases almost every week where somebody has gone down because the pavement was bad and was dangerous and caused them to lose control over their bike, either their bicycle or their motorcycle. Most motorcyclists and bicyclists don't understand the requirements of the public entities in terms of maintaining the road, and they really need to consult with a lawyer to figure out whether or not they might have a claim against a public entity.

Rob Rosenthal:

Do you find Claude, as you said, you've had a lot of experience in this area, are there people that are injured because in a crash of some sort, and they don't even stop to think it could have been because of a dangerous road that that could have been the problem?

Claude Wyle:

We've encountered many catastrophic injury cases where people had no idea that the roadway itself was a substantial factor in causing their life-threatening and catastrophic injury. Generally that's up to the lawyer to be creative, and sadly, not all lawyers who do personal injury law look hard enough, they'd rather get the low-hanging fruit, but it's important to always look at the roadway as if it were another party in the lawsuit or another party in causing a crash. It's not just always between two vehicles or a vehicle and a pedestrian, oftentimes the roadway plays a part, and if it plays anything more than a trivial part, you should bring a claim and probably bring a lawsuit.

Rob Rosenthal:

So it would seem to me when you decide, Okay, we're bringing your claim, as you mentioned already, there's cities, there's state, there's federal highways, there's all these different... does that make it more complicated determining who's ultimately responsible?

Claude Wyle:

Because we have shared responsibility for roadways and public property, it makes it immensely more difficult and challenging. We have actually taken cases, almost to trial and settled them involving roadways partially controlled by the state and partially controlled by the city of San Francisco, and even though we settled the case and the city and the state can agree on how much they're gonna pay is in terms of this settlement, they never have agreed on who was really responsible for this roadway. I've got a case right now where it's a city street, but it's also a state highway, because it's going through San Francisco, it's a state highway, but it is also a city street. We had to look at the specific problem, which was a problem with the traffic signals and determine who had the duty to maintain the traffic signals at this intersection. So it turned out the City of San Francisco had that duty, and so did their contractor because it was under construction and the State of California was not responsible for that aspect of the roadway, so we let the state out and we're pursuing the case against the city and the private contractor.

Rob Rosenthal:

Something you mentioned, just brought up another thought, and that's the issue, it probably isn't always just that the roads are in disrepair, but sometimes issues can be caused while they're trying to be repaired to sometimes while they're under construction and whether it's repair or changing the lanes or whatever, that sometimes there can be problems there too, right?

Claude Wyle:

There quite often are problems there, and whether the private contractor generally blames the public entity saying, Hey, we just build according to what we're told, and the public entity says, Well, we weren't in control while it was under construction, so the private contractors responsible... They point the finger at each other, and it can make for some very challenging cases in terms of just trying to get to what was wrong with the road and who should pay for it.

Rob Rosenthal:

So why is an important Claude then to have an attorney on your side who knows to look deeper and look for other causes?

Claude Wyle:

Well, I learned decades ago when we first handling these cases that public entity, dangerous condition of public property cases are tremendously complicated. The claims process is complicated, the procedural process is complicated, and then when you think you've got it all together, you have to deal with public entity immunities. There are immunities written into the law, and the public entities can rely on these immunities, and the lawyer who handles these kinds of cases needs to know from the beginning what kind of immunity the public entity is going to assert and needs to know how to navigate through that, and to see if their claim is a kind of claim that can survive a motion for summary judgment to get out because of the public entity live immunity. So there can be liability, there can be something wrong with the road, the public entity can even have notice, but the public entity can still sometimes get out on immunity, and you have to know the exceptions to each and every immunity that the public entity is going to claim, and it's very complicated and... Sorry, but most lawyers don't understand it, we actually refresh ourselves each and every case. It depends on the exact facts of each and every case as to whether the immunity is applied, and it's always a fight that I can almost guarantee every public entity case ends up with a motion to have our case thrown out of court because of immunity.

Rob Rosenthal:

Right, and it seems like every time we talk, you tell us importance of getting someone like yourself fighting for you as quickly as possible, it would seem to me in these cases, the city, somebody is harmed because of fault with the roadway, and if you wait... The city gets out there and fixes the problem before you get somebody on your side to gather evidence, it's more important than ever to get somebody on your side early in this process, right?

Claude Wyle:

Absolutely. You need a lawyer who as an investigator, usually somebody will call me up, maybe they're in a hospital bed, their family member calls me up and says, Well, can you help? And I said, Well, first of all, get out to the scene, take as many photographs if you can, if it involves something like a pot hole, take a measurement of the pot hole, put a yard stick in there and take a picture, and for God's sake don't get hit by a car, but preserve your evidence because the public entity responds to accident data, and if you don't get out there on time, they will change the road. They won't do it necessarily to be sneaky, they just do it because they respond to accident data, so that's one of the things we look for right away, we do a Freedom of Information Act request, and we demand to know how many accidents have there been at this intersection? What kind of accidents? As all sorts of things you can find out through the Freedom of Information Act. And honestly, most lawyers don't even think of that, most lawyers don't even think of a dangerous roadway when they start a case. One thing we have to stress is that it's not just where the roadway was completely at fault, the roadway could have been a substantial factor, even though, the two parties in the two different vehicles were also each partially at fault. So you could have somebody pulling a left turn in front of a motorcyclist, the motorcyclist might have been speeding a little bit, but were the traffic signals time correctly? How many accidents were there at this intersection where there were left turns and People crashed despite the fact that there was a left turn arrow? Was the left turn arrow there the whole time, or was it there only part of the time? Was it a permissive, was it a protected left turn? These are things that we all learn along the way, and you have to know the experts to call, and you have to be willing to invest your office's resources in order to determine whether or not you've got a good case. If you aren't willing to inspect and invest, the public entity case is probably just gonna go by the wayside.

Rob Rosenthal:

I learn something every time we talk. Claude thank you for answering our questions this time.

Claude Wyle:

Any time, Rob, I'd be here every week if you'd let me. 

Rob Rosenthal:

I'll have to talk about that. That's gonna do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer. My guest has been San Francisco attorney Claude Wyle. I remind you again, if you wanna ask Claude questions of your own, go to AskTheLawyers.com, click the button at the top of the page that says Ask a Lawyer. Click right there and it will walk you right through the process. Doesn't cost anything to ask a question. Thanks for watching, I'm Rob Rosenthal with Ask the Lawyers.

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