According to an Atlanta police spokesman, an unidentified motorcyclist “struck a bridge abutment and was killed instantly” this morning. This appears to be yet another catastrophic single vehicle Atlanta accident. At first blush, that might end the inquiry as to who was at fault in this tragic case.
As an experienced injury lawyer who has litigated similar accidents, I feel it is important to note that a full investigation of the facts of this case should be conducted in order to determine liability and all potential defendants. As I pointed out in a recent post on this blog, others have been able to recover against County or City governments in cases where the roadway conditions cause of contributed to the accident. In the other single vehicle accident case discussed recently on this forum, the plaintiffs were able to recover a substantial amount of money, even though it was a single vehicle accident. The legal theory under which many single vehicle accident vicitms successfully bring lawsuits is one of nuisance. This is the theory used by the Tottens when they sued the county in which the bike accident occurred alleging the county (and not the bike rider) was liable for the fall because it promoted the road as a bike path but failed to maintain it in a safe condition. An important fact in the case was that the County allowed a hole around the paving marker to grow deeper with each road paving. As you will see below, this is what helps to establish a cause of action for nuisance (vs. a cause of action for negligence, which is a much narrower and more difficult legal theory to assert against municipalities, cities, counties, states, etc.)
“Before a municipality may be held liable for maintenance of a nuisance, (1) the alleged defect or degree of misfeasance must exceed mere negligence; (2) the act must be of some duration and the maintenance of the act or defect must be continuous or regularly repetitious; and (3) the municipality must have failed to act within a reasonable time after knowledge of the defect or dangerous condition. [Cits.]” Shuman v. Mayor &c. of Savannah, 180 Ga. App. 427, 428 (349 SE2d 239) (1986).
As the above Georgia applicable case law makes clear, the wrongful act (i.e., the nuisance) must exceed mere negligence, it must take place over an extended period of time; and the municipality must fail to act within a reasonable time after knowing about the dangerous condition. This is a situation that our firm has dealt with when pursuing cases involving dangerous conditions within the City of Atlanta. This occurs often, not only with dangerous road conditions, but also in situations when innocent people are injured from missing water meter covers, missing sewer grates, or as was common a few years back, water meters covers that were the wrong size, yet were put in place by the city and which led to many serious injuries when the water meter covers broke after being stepped on and were never replaced, despite the City receiving notice of the resulting injuries and dangerous situations. Neeedles to say, this is a frustrating situation for all involved, from the concerned citizens of Atlanta who call the City to notify them of a dangerous condition to those who are seriously hurt due to the City’s failure to timely correct the defective condition.