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Is the State of Ohio Liable for Poor Road Signage?

Car Accidents Caused by Poor Road Signage

When it comes to a car accident, there may be more parties at-fault than just the negligent driver. In some cases, a state or municipal government’s actions (or inaction) may be a factor. For example, if the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) fails to properly maintain a public highway, a judge or jury could find such negligence contributed to an accident and any injuries sustained by the victims.

road sign

Appeals Court Orders New Trial in Accident Lawsuit

In fact, an Ohio appeals court recently reinstated a personal injury lawsuit against ODOT after a magistrate failed to properly consider all of the evidence in support of the victim’s case. This particular case, O’Brien v. Department of Transportation, revolves around an August 2010 car accident in Knox County on State Route (SR) 95. The plaintiff was a passenger in a car driven by the father of his girlfriend.

The vehicle travelled south on SR 95, which is a rural two-lane highway. At one point SR 95 takes a sharp curve where it intersects with two other streets, Mishey Road and Old Mansfield Road. The driver in this case failed to follow this curve, so instead of remaining on SR 95, the vehicle drove through the intersection onto Old Mansfield Road and collided with another vehicle travelling northbound on SR 95. The car flipped over and came to rest on its roof, causing serious injuries to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff later filed a personal injury claim against ODOT. The plaintiff alleged that ODOT’s failure to follow the applicable safety standards governing road signage caused the accident. Essentially, the plaintiff’s case was that ODOT placed its signs in such a manner that they “failed to adequately warn” the driver about the sharp curve on SR 95.

A magistrate for the Ohio Court of Claims tried the plaintiff’s case. The magistrate ultimately ruled ODOT did nothing wrong and was not liable for the accident. The plaintiff then appealed to the Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals.

The appeals court reversed the magistrate’s ruling and ordered a new trial. The magistrate’s critical error, according to the 10th District, was a decision to exclude the testimony of a “human factors” expert witness at trial. This witness rebutted a key part of ODOT’s defense, namely that the driver must not have been paying attention to the road just before the collision as he did not recall seeing any of the allegedly defective road signs.

The plaintiff’s expert said that “from a human factors standpoint and from a psychologist’s standpoint,” the driver “could have driven down SR 95, seen or perceived the signs, and then not remembered them right after the accident.” Furthermore, the expert offered testimony regarding how the driver “would have cognitively processed” the allegedly defective road signage as he “approached the intersection.” The appeals court said the magistrate should have considered this evidence before rendering its decision.

Contact the Ohio Personal Injury Lawyers at Tittle & Perlmuter Today

Some Ohio trial judges are quick to exclude potentially critical evidence from a personal injury case. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Ohio car accident attorney who will fight to ensure a judge or jury sees everything they need to before deciding your case. Contact Tittle & Perlmuter at (216) 242-1361 if you have been injured in an auto accident and would like to speak with a lawyer today.