March 10, 2021

The population in North Carolina continues to grow, and that means more highways and other roads are being built for our growing population.

Existing roads often have to be maintained or rehabilitated. This work is often completed while drivers continue to use the road, which can lead to car wrecks or other accidents. When an accident occurs in a construction zone, victims or their families often wonder what rights they have: Is someone legally liable? In North Carolina, this question depends on whether another party was “negligent” or otherwise wrongly acted and whether that negligence actually caused harm to the injured party. In the case of road construction, this analysis can become very complex.

The safety of workers even in a construction zone is of the utmost importance and all drivers should do everything possible to ensure the safety of these workers. However, this article focuses on injuries to innocent third parties in a construction zone, especially drivers and their passengers.

The role of “negligence”

Whether someone is liable for an accident in a road construction zone depends on whether the possibly culpable party was “negligent”. If someone does not act with reasonable care and his actions cause injury, that party is considered negligent. In the absence of legal defense, a negligent party is legally liable for the damage caused by its negligence.

Again, there are potential defenses. For example, North Carolina is one of the few states that recognizes the “contributory negligence” doctrine. This doctrine provides that the injured party cannot recover at all if the injured party contributed in the slightest – even 1% – negligently to the incident. There are exceptions to this defense, such as the “last clear chance” doctrine or possibly where the acting party is found to be not only negligent but “grossly negligent”.

In order to determine who is possibly to blame for an accident in a construction zone, it is analyzed whether someone was negligent and whether this negligence caused the accident.

Possible parties to the error in an accident in a road construction zone

There are numerous possible culprits in a construction zone accident. Other drivers could certainly be held liable. There are often special tasks involved in maintaining slower speeds and having a decent lookout while driving through a construction zone. If another driver fails to do this, they may be negligent. And if they cause an accident, they are responsible for the injuries to an innocent party.

There can be other causes of accidents in a construction zone. These causes can be:

  • Dangerous traffic safety;
  • Inadequate warning signs;
  • Incorrectly placed warning signs;
  • Incorrectly designed detours;
  • Carelessly drafted construction plans, including traffic management plans;
  • Improper use of construction machinery;
  • Careless construction that poses dangers for motorists (materials on the road, blocked view, etc.);
  • Insufficient inspection of construction activities; and
  • Any other act or inactivity in the work area that poses an unreasonable risk to motorists and could foreseeably cause an accident.

If the construction work itself is the cause of an injury, it can be difficult to determine who is to blame. The North Carolina Department of Transportation or other government agency may be responsible for this. These are often government projects and state or local departments are often responsible for oversight, inspection, or signage. However, private contractors are usually involved. Determining which contractors were involved in which construction activities can be complicated and require extensive research, requests for public records, or using the discovery process in a litigation. There can also be multiple responsible parties. North Carolina follows the rule of joint and several liability. Each negligent party is liable for the full damage suffered by the injured party.

Numerous sources can provide information on the standards that should have been followed in the road construction project and therefore provide information about possible mistakes that have been made. These sources may include jurisdiction, regulations, contracts, and subcontracts between the parties, as well as certain state and federal materials such as the North Carolina Standard Specifications for Roads and Structures, Standard Drawings, and the Uniform Traffic Control Devices Manual (MUTCD). It is often necessary to hire experts to investigate these problems and assess whether mistakes were made in the construction project and what impact these mistakes have. Therefore, the liability analysis in these cases can be very complex and time-consuming.

Elements of damage

Once the negligence is proven, the law must determine what damage is due to the injured party. The aim of awarding damages is to make the injured person “whole” according to the law. No amount of money can ever compensate anyone for serious, permanent injury or death. The only way our civil justice system has to compensate an injured party is by paying money. So paying money is how the law compensates for bodily harm and death to offset the damage caused. The negligent party or, if applicable, its insurance company will be responsible for paying for such damages.

Several types of damage can occur in the event of personal injury. This includes past and present medical bills, as well as future medical costs. The victim may also be entitled to lost wages or a reduced future ability to work due to persistent health problems due to the injuries sustained.

Nor is there economic harm intended to offset the pain and suffering, scarring or disfigurement, loss of use of a body part, or the durability associated with persistent injury. It is up to the parties (or their insurance companies), a judge or a jury to determine an appropriate amount of compensation for this damage based on the specific facts.

Conclusion

Construction projects on our highways and other roads can create dangerous situations that can lead to an increased risk of accidents. If another driver, those responsible for the construction plans or those responsible for the actual construction activities have caused an accident and someone is injured, the negligent party is legally liable for the damage caused. These cases can be very complex. The involvement of an experienced, committed lawyer ensures the protection of the rights of the injured party and that the injured party has competent guidance even during complex and challenging legal proceedings.

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© 2021 Ward and Smith, PA For more information on the issues described above, please contact Jeremy M. Wilson.

This article is not intended and should not be relied upon to provide legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact. No action should be taken based on the information in this article without the advice of a lawyer.

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