Court: County Not Responsible for Pothole That Caused Death of Cyclist

A few months back we posted an article addressing the question to what extent are local governments liable for damages or injuries resulting from damaged roadways. (1) The State Supreme Court recently settled that question when it issued its ruling on Polzo v. County of Essex. If after reading the following you need assistance recovering damages from pothole-related accidents, contact the personal injury lawyers at Ragland Law Firm in Lebanon, N.J.

Back in August of 2001, Mathi Kahn-Polzo was biking along the shoulder of the roadway with friends when she hit a pothole and fell from her bike striking her head. Even though she was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, she died a few weeks later from head injuries suffered in the fall. In 2002, Ms. Kahn-Polzo’s husband filed suit against Essex County seeking wrongful death damages and survivor benefits. (2)

In the suit, Mr. Polzo claimed Essex County was responsible for his wife’s death since it had failed to repair the pothole, which was on a county-owned road. The Torts Claims Act restricts liability of local governments but does require them to repair damages for which they have been given “constructive notice.” The question the Court grappled with was whether or not that responsibility extended to include the establishment of an inspection program to detect such damages. (1)

In the original trial, the court ruled that the plaintiff failed to prove the County was aware of the pothole. The recent Supreme Court decision agreed with this ruling. (3) Furthermore, the Supreme Court noted that the road damage was the result of natural conditions – storms, fluctuating temperatures, flooding, etc. – and not the byproduct of a faulty or non-existent inspection program. According to the Court, failure to discover a dangerous condition was not the same as creating that condition. The Court also noted that even if County crews had been filling potholes in the area just weeks before the accident, as documents disclosed, it could be considered reasonable for the County to fix damages in the roadway before addressing those on the shoulder of the roads since that area is reserved for emergency use only. (2) Based on these findings, the Court dismissed the suit. (3)

While local governments may be responsible for repairing potholes and other dangerous road conditions if they are notified, they are not liable for their failure to seek out such dangers.

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries or damages caused by poor road conditions particularly in Hunterdon County, contact the personal injury attorneys at Ragland Law Firm to protect your legal rights. Ragland Law Firm is located in Lebanon, N.J.

(1) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202516933540&slreturn=1

(2) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202538796300&slreturn=1

(3) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/01/nj_supreme_court_rules_essex_c.html