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  1. #1
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    Jun 2010
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    Default Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    This is for Los Angeles County, California.

    Hi all,

    First and foremost, apologies if this is not the correct forum but this felt like it was the most relevant one to address my question.

    Backstory: small fender-bender (no injury, minor damage) due to several cars having to quickly swerve and hit their brakes due to a lane closure (tree trimming). Several cars involved. Their method of closing the lane was nothing more than placing cones in the far lane; there is no other signage, warning, flags, etc. You're just driving along in rush hour traffic and, suddenly, a cone. So I primarily have two questions:

    1) What's the best way to go about researching what signage (if any) is required for a lane closure? I'd assume there are specific laws and procedures involved for getting a permit to do this, but would it be state, county, city, etc? All of the above?

    2) If there is, in fact, a requirement to place additional signs that was not complied with, could the contractor and/or city be held liable for damages (similar to potholes, etc.)?

    Any guidance or other advice is much appreciated.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    What sort of street/road are we talking about? The answer to your first question will be different depending on whether you're talking about an interstate highway or a residential street or something in between.

    As for question #2, it would be virtually impossible to hold a city or other governmental entity liable for a pothole. If a contractor did not comply with some applicable law regarding warnings, then the contractor certainly could be held liable.

    Questions for you: Were you the driver of one of the several involved cars, or is this just idle curiosity? If you were involved, have you made a claim against your own collision coverage or the liability coverage of one or more of the other involved drivers? Finally, why wasn't the use of cones sufficient to warn drivers? What was the posted speed limit, and how fast were the cars involved traveling? Was the area where the work was being done obstructed in some way?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    Quote Quoting Mikes83
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    You're just driving along in rush hour traffic and, suddenly, a cone.
    Oooh, magic cones that appear from nowhere. I wonder where one can purchase these?

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    Quote Quoting pg1067
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    What sort of street/road are we talking about?
    Something in between. It's a public road that spills directly into a state highway, but the "Freeway Begins" sign is still about a half-mile beyond where the accident occurred. Google Maps lists both the street name and the highway designation on the map in this location, for whatever that might be worth. Confirming the exact location of the terminus has proven to be a bit of a challenge this morning.

    As for question #2, it would be virtually impossible to hold a city or other governmental entity liable for a pothole. If a contractor did not comply with some applicable law regarding warnings, then the contractor certainly could be held liable.
    Just a small disagreement on this point. Several cities have mechanisms for reimbursement if there are damages from a pothole. Now, if you mean it's virtually impossible to do much after they decline your submission, there's probably plenty of truth to that.

    Questions for you: Were you the driver of one of the several involved cars, or is this just idle curiosity?
    Both, technically. I'm handling the accident/liability aspect of this apart from anything to do with the city/state or permit procedures. I was mainly looking to see if one or any entity could be held liable for those damages after the fact, and for future reference if I should see this happen again.

    If you were involved, have you made a claim against your own collision coverage or the liability coverage of one or more of the other involved drivers?
    Not yet. Still working with the other driver on estimates and if we're going to involve our respective insurance companies.

    Finally, why wasn't the use of cones sufficient to warn drivers? What was the posted speed limit, and how fast were the cars involved traveling? Was the area where the work was being done obstructed in some way?
    Speed limit is 40; if I had to ballpark it I'd say most cars were going roughly 40-50. People typically drive faster through this corridor as it's a divided road/highway that leads to a freeway, but in rush hour that's usually not the case. Three lanes in each direction with a small downhill curve and tall trees where the work was being done.

    I'd assert the cones were insufficient since whenever there's a lane closure in other circumstances there are several orange constructions signs posted well before where the work is being done to warn drivers of merging ahead where there otherwise wouldn't be. I assumed this was standard and required by law on a public roadway, especially a major thoroughfare. The cones are also below eye level for most vehicles, so unless you're actually in the lane being closed, you'd have no idea they were there or that there's about to be an entire row of cars about to come into your lane.

    Update: I've confirmed that it is, in fact, CalTrans roadway and CalTrans has confirmed that they're required to have signs in addition to the cones, but they said it is likely the city doing the work since it's technically not 'roadwork'. He did seem to be taking it seriously and considers it a safety issue.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    Spin it any way you like, but if you hit the car in front of you the fault is 100% your own because you failed to control your vehicle, were following too closely, or travelling too fast for conditions. Unless a car fell from the sky and landed right in front of your bumper, you should have been able to stop your car without hitting the car in front of you, had you been driving properly.

    The city is not responsible, though you are free to make a claim and see how that goes.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    Quote Quoting adjusterjack
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    Spin it any way you like, but if you hit the car in front of you the fault is 100% your own because you failed to control your vehicle, were following too closely, or travelling too fast for conditions. Unless a car fell from the sky and landed right in front of your bumper, you should have been able to stop your car without hitting the car in front of you, had you been driving properly.
    This isn't spin. I hit another vehicle because they were forced into my lane and hit the brakes; they swerved into my lane because a third lane was improperly closed and caused a domino effect. The first thing that driver said when we got out of our cars was to remark about the cones and the lane being closed; there was zero confusion between either of us about what led to this. Multiple cars were making sudden panic maneuvers approaching the closure.

    The city is not responsible, though you are free to make a claim and see how that goes.
    With all due respect, I've got Caltrans in one ear telling me the contractor, city, or whoever was doing the work isn't following the proper procedure, and I've got a friend at the Auto Club in the other ear telling me it's entirely possible that a carrier could apply partial fault or even zero fault depending on what I can provide the adjuster. I haven't been in an accident (regardless of fault) in twenty years. This is far from a sure thing, granted, but to suggest there's no liability on the part of the city for failing to place required road signs ahead of closed traffic lanes seems a little premature.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    First, CalTrans is not the arbiter of the law and they do not oversee cities and their contractors. What they're saying about an unknown situation cannot be taken as gospel. Second, if the other car turned into your land and caused the collision, your claim will be with that vehicle's insurer. From what you have written, you have yet to make a claim with the other driver's insurance provider. Have you at least reported it to your own insurer? In most cases THEY can handle the matter on your behalf.

    Now, if there was improper signage or notification of the road obstruction, the vehicles actually forced to deviate from the path might have a claim against the city or the contractor doing the work, but that's on them, not you.
    **********
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    Quote Quoting Mikes83
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    I hit another vehicle because they were forced into my lane and hit the brakes;
    Then you might have a claim against that driver. Though, without a witness to that driver's behavior, the presumption is always against the driver that hits the back of another vehicle.

    Quote Quoting Mikes83
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    With all due respect, I've got Caltrans in one ear telling me the contractor, city, or whoever was doing the work isn't following the proper procedure, and I've got a friend at the Auto Club in the other ear telling me it's entirely possible that a carrier could apply partial fault or even zero fault depending on what I can provide the adjuster.
    You can certainly make that argument and see how it plays out.

    Quote Quoting Mikes83
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    I haven't been in an accident (regardless of fault) in twenty years.
    Means nothing. I drove for 45 years without ever causing an accident and for 10 years I told people on line how they were at fault for backing out of parking spaces and hitting other vehicles. Then one day, guess what, I backed out of a parking space and clipped a car going behind me. It happens.

    Tell me something. Did the driver in back of you hit you when you stopped short and hit the car in front of you? I'm betting that the answer is no, it didn't.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    Quote Quoting cdwjava
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    First, CalTrans is not the arbiter of the law and they do not oversee cities and their contractors. What they're saying about an unknown situation cannot be taken as gospel. Second, if the other car turned into your land and caused the collision, your claim will be with that vehicle's insurer. From what you have written, you have yet to make a claim with the other driver's insurance provider. Have you at least reported it to your own insurer? In most cases THEY can handle the matter on your behalf.

    Now, if there was improper signage or notification of the road obstruction, the vehicles actually forced to deviate from the path might have a claim against the city or the contractor doing the work, but that's on them, not you.
    I agree with all of this except the part about your insurer handling this matter on your behalf.

    Based on what you wrote in posts 4 and 6 in this thread, this accident is some combination of your and the other driver's fault (and possibly 100% the other driver's fault). I can't determine more than that based on what you've written thus far. Unless you and the other driver can work this out yourselves, you need to do three things: (1) file an SR-1 with the DMV (assuming the combined property damage was in excess of $1k) within 10 days after the accident; (2) put your insurer on notice; and (3) make a claim against the other driver's liability insurance. You can, if you like defer a claim against your own collision coverage.

    As far as you own insurer handling this on your behalf, the only circumstance in which that will happen is if you make a claim against your collision coverage. If that happens, your insurer will seek to recover what it pays (along with your deductible) from the other driver or his insurer. Of course, that assumes that your insurer concludes you were not wholly at fault.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Can a City Be Held Liable for Improper Lane Closure

    Quote Quoting adjusterjack
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    Tell me something. Did the driver in back of you hit you when you stopped short and hit the car in front of you? I'm betting that the answer is no, it didn't.
    Fortunately they didn't. However, if you're going where I think you're going with this, it's worth reiterating that a vehicle swerved into my lane; I was in the lane I'd always been in. I think you'd agree that when it comes to stopping distance, one of those two scenarios is a little more predictable than the other.

    Quote Quoting pg1067
    View Post
    I agree with all of this except the part about your insurer handling this matter on your behalf.

    Based on what you wrote in posts 4 and 6 in this thread, this accident is some combination of your and the other driver's fault (and possibly 100% the other driver's fault). I can't determine more than that based on what you've written thus far. Unless you and the other driver can work this out yourselves, you need to do three things: (1) file an SR-1 with the DMV (assuming the combined property damage was in excess of $1k) within 10 days after the accident; (2) put your insurer on notice; and (3) make a claim against the other driver's liability insurance. You can, if you like defer a claim against your own collision coverage.

    As far as you own insurer handling this on your behalf, the only circumstance in which that will happen is if you make a claim against your collision coverage. If that happens, your insurer will seek to recover what it pays (along with your deductible) from the other driver or his insurer. Of course, that assumes that your insurer concludes you were not wholly at fault.

    Thanks, I appreciate the input. As it turns out, the other driver has both told their own carrier and put into writing that they don't believe I'm at fault and supports that they were forced to swerve due to the cones and other vehicles, for whatever that might be worth.

    As of this morning I've confirmed with both Caltrans and the city that there are supposed to be signs and a traffic control crew who was apparently never called. I have a call scheduled today with my own insurance carrier and I'll just share with them what I know so far and go from there.

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