In a recent move, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has expanded the right to sue the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over injuries from guardrails after a car accident. After years of court rulings that prevented car accident victims from suing for dangerous guardrails that spear through windshields, stop cars too suddenly, or fail to keep cars from falling from high places. If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident that was made worse because of poorly designed or dangerous guardrails, talk to an attorney today. The Philadelphia defective guardrail injury lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm offer free consultations on injury and wrongful death cases involving dangerous guardrails.
Suing the Government for Defective Guardrails in PA
Many highways in Pennsylvania have guardrails along the side of the road to help prevent cars from running off cliffs or bridges. The goal of these guardrails is to protect, but many times the design or placement of a guardrail is defective. When the State takes active steps to make people safer, but their actions actually cause worse injuries, victims should be able to sue the government for damages. This new case finally allows victims to do just that.
The government can be sued for many things they do wrong, but there are limitations. Historically, the government was entirely immune from lawsuits. This “governmental immunity” seems incredibly unfair by todays standards, and so the federal government and states across the nation have adopted specific rules that open the government to lawsuits for certain problems. Injuries from highway guardrails are now included among those reasons to sue the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
There have been a number of cases across the country where defective guardrails have caused significant injuries. Most guardrails are made of a long, thin, metal beam that runs along the side of the road with posts every few feet to support its weight. Many of these are too weak and fail to fully hold a car back when it crashes into the rail. The design of the ends of these rails vary. Some have a curved “boxing glove” end, some are flat, some use water barrels, and others are sloped into the ground. In some cases, a car that strikes the end of the rail is speared through by the railing. This can kill or seriously injure occupants within the car.
If the government installed the guardrails on a highway, it is their responsibility to ensure that the railings do their job. Poor installation, poor design, or imperfections along the railing may cause increased risks when a car strikes the guardrail during a car accident. If the government allows its highways to have dangerous conditions on their property, they, like any other property owner, can now be held liable for injuries those conditions cause.
The PA Supreme Court’s Decision on Highway Guardrails
In this new case, Cagey v. Commonwealth (2018), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided to overturn years of precedent and clarify rules established in the 2000 case, Dean v. Department of Transportation.
In Dean, the court ruled that Pennsylvania and the PA Department of Transportation (PennDOT) did not have a duty to install guardrails on the highway. In that case, the government had not installed a guardrail at the location where a crash occurred, and the victims argued that the injuries would have been reduced by having a guardrail. Still, the court rejected their claim on the basis that PennDOT was not negligent if it had no duty to install the guardrails.
In Cagey, the lower court followed the ruling in Dean, saying PennDOT couldn’t be sued for a defective guardrail, since it had no duty to erect guardrails in the first place. The lower court found that a defective guardrail was equal to having no guardrail, and said PennDOT could not be held responsible, just like in Dean.
The PA Supreme Court overruled the lower court, saying that since the State already installed a guardrail, they could be held responsible for its defects. While the Dean ruling still means the government doesn’t have a duty to install guardrails, this ruling means that any rails they do install must be safe. Since the government installed defective guardrails, they can be held liable for any consequences of that “dangerous condition” on their property.
PA Guardrail Accident Lawyers
Drivers and passengers are injured every year because guardrails on the sides of roads spear through their car, create another obstacle to crash into, or fail to keep the car from running off the roadway. If you or a loved one was injured in an accident involving a guardrail on the side of a highway, a curvy mountain road, or any other street in Pennsylvania, call our law offices today. The Philadelphia personal injury lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm represent car accident injury victims and their families. If you suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one in an accident, call our law offices today for a free consultation on your case. Our number is (215) 246-9000.