Can I Sue the Louisiana DOTD for a Louisiana Automobile Accident?

January 26, 2021 18-Wheeler Truck Accidents

Can I Sue the Louisiana DOTD for a Louisiana Automobile Accident?

If you or someone you love has been injured or killed in a Louisiana automobile accident, you are entitled to sue all persons and entities who have some proportion of fault for the accident. This includes the person who was driving the other vehicle and, under some circumstances, the State of Louisiana for negligent construction and design of highways and roads. The State can be sued by bringing a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation and Development (“DOTD”) which has the legal responsibility of building and maintaining roads here in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the DOTD is legally required and carries a duty to build and maintain the public highways in Louisiana in a condition that is reasonably safe for persons exercising ordinary care and reasonable prudence. This duty of care extends to many aspects of our roads and highways including shoulders running along the roads, ditches, guardrails, and more. The duty exists even though drivers may be driving too fast or may become distracted. In other words, the DOTD’s duty to build and maintain reasonably safe roads and highways considering how the roads and highways are actually used. It is foreseeable that drivers might speed or that they would veer off onto the shoulder of the road. When the DOTD fails in its duty — breaches its duty — then the DOTD can be sued by the victims of its negligence.

The law in Louisiana requires that, in order for the DOTD to be held liable, the victim of a Louisiana vehicle crash must provide evidence proving four legal elements:

  • The DOTD had custody and control of something — like a highway, guardrail, ditch, road shoulder — which caused victim’s injuries and damages
  • The “something” was defective because it created an unreasonable risk of harm
  • The DOTD had actual or constructive notice of the condition/defect and failed to take corrective measures within a reasonable time
  • The defect was a cause-in-fact of plaintiffs’ injuries

Suing the DOTD can be complex and difficult. So, victims of accidents for which the DOTD is at fault must retain experienced and dedicated personal injury attorneys like those at Mansfield, Melancon, Cranmer & Dick LLC.

Whether the roadway at the scene of the accident was unreasonably dangerous generally depends on the unique facts and circumstances of the case. Almost always, experts on road building and construction must be hired to evaluate and give testimony to show why the scene of the accident was unsafe. An example is the recent case of Murphy v. Savannah, 282 So. 3d 1034 (La. Supreme Court 2019) involving the design of a “Y” shaped intersection on a two-lane stretch of Louisiana Highway 538, known as Old Mooringsport Road. The injured parties in that case claimed that the left turn off of the “Y” intersection was unreasonably safe because the turn was too sharp. They alleged that the DOTD was at fault — breached its duty — by failing to remedy the defect in the road design and/or by failing to post proper warnings of the danger. Both the victims and the DOTD hired experts to provide testimony about whether the intersection was unreasonably dangerous. At the trial level, the court felt the DOTD’s expert was more reliable and dismissed the case. However, the Louisiana Court of Appeals disagreed and ordered the case reinstated. But, a divided Louisiana Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals and upheld dismissal of the case. The case is a good example of how complex these sorts of cases can be and how even judges can disagree about how the case should be resolved.

Our Attorneys can Help

If you or someone you love has been injured in a Louisiana automobile accident, contact the Louisiana personal injury attorneys at Mansfield, Melancon, Cranmer & Dick LLC. We have a proven track record of success with many types of personal injury cases. Contact us by calling one of our offices: New Orleans at (504) 500-1108, Baton Rouge at (225) 612-0800, or Lafayette at (337) 409-0003. You can also request a free consultation by using our “Contact Us” page.