Victory for Traveling Public

by fstrack | March 21st, 2012

A big victory for the traveling public.  The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) was found responsible for the death of a woman heading to work on State Route 165 in Columbiana County in March, 2008.  A long series of potholes in the oncoming lane of travel caused a box truck to lose control, go left of center and collide with our client’s vehicle, killing her.  The potholes were located just over the crest of a hill in the path of the right wheels of any vehicle traveling in the oncoming lane.  The potholes were reported two weeks earlier to the local ODOT office by a driver who lost control of his car when he encountered the potholes, but ODOT had a policy of not documenting such complaints.  By refusing to have a policy of documenting reports of potholes, ODOT is able to come into court and claim it had no notice of the potholes, thereby making it difficult, if not impossible, to find it negligent in failing to timley repair known/reported potholes.  ODOT’s County Manager traveled that same road a week earlier, saw the potholes, but didn’t order them to be immediately repaired, claiming it was his intention to have them repaired at some point.  He admitted that potholes deteriorate quickly and can become hazardous to the public if not repaired timely.  Two days before the accident that caused our client’s death, an ODOT snow truck plowed the road but didn’t call in the potholes to ODOT.  The Court of Claims, which hears and rules on cases against the State of Ohio, found that ODOT was negligent in failing to immediately fill the potholes, which it had ample capacity to do, and that the negligence of ODOT was the sole cause of the death of our client.

Alarmingly, the Ohio Legislature is currently considering House Bill 487 that would grant immunity to ODOT under these same circumstances, essentially giving ODOT complete freedom to allow Ohio roads to deteriorate to dangerous levels since it will have no legal responsibility to the traveling public.  Even though the roads are maintained with taxpayer money,  under this proposed bill the taxpayer would have no legal recourse for any injury, including death, if ODOT negligently failed to properly maintain the roadway.  Allowing such a bill to become law would not only further erode the taxpayer’s ability to seek recourse for harm caused by ODOT, but would shield a negligent actor from an responsibility for wrongdoing.  Such a bill in no way protects the public, but instead protects state employees from being held accountable.