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Defective Roadway Claim Against City Turns on Issue of Notice

In an Atlanta car accident lawsuit, the defendant is not always a negligent motorist whose actions led to a crash. Sometimes, a party who was not even present at the accident scene may be named as a defendant – such as in a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of an uncrashworthy vehicle or, as in a recent appellate case, a city (and city officials) who allegedly failed to maintain a roadway, thus causing an accident.

When the defendant happens to be a governmental entity, however, special rules apply, and such cases can prove to be more difficult than cases against “regular” defendants, such as individuals or businesses.

Facts of the Case

In a recent Georgia appeals court case, the plaintiff was a man who sought monetary compensation from a city, a mayor, and members of a city council due to injuries the plaintiff suffered because of the defendants’ alleged failure to properly maintain a public roadway, thereby causing a collision in which the plaintiff was injured. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court denied the motion on the basis that certain photographs taken after the accident created a question of fact as to whether the defendants had constructive notice of the alleged defect. The defendants appealed.

Holding of the Court of Appeals of Georgia

The appellate court reversed. The plaintiff argued that the evidence showed that the accident happened because of an area of broken pavement around a manhole cover, but the defendants insisted that they had no actual or constructive notice of the defect alleged by the plaintiff. Under Georgia law, a municipality can only be held liable for a defect of which it had actual notice or a defect that had existed for such a length of time that, in the exercise of due diligence, the city should have discovered the condition and taken action to remedy it.

In the trial court, the plaintiff introduced photographs, taken two weeks after the accident, that showed a manhole encased in uneven concrete surrounded by asphalt with large cracks and broken sections. The trial court found that a jury could conclude, solely based on the photographs, that the defect had existed long enough that the defendants had constructive notice of the problem, but the appellate court disagreed. Instead, the court of appeals found that the photographs alone did not establish how long the defect took to develop and worsen – only the condition as it existed on a day two weeks after the accident. Without additional evidence as to the length of time that the road had been in disarray, the defendants should have been granted summary judgment.

In so holding, the court noted that the defendants had presented a city employee’s affidavit to the effect that there had been no citizen complaints about the defect at issue.

Talk to an Atlanta Attorney About Your Case

Motor vehicle accidents can alter lives in a matter of seconds. An accident victim’s financial future may be jeopardized by staggering medical bills and the inability to work for weeks, months, or maybe even years. Pain and suffering can be immense and can affect not only the victim but family relationships as well. At the Law Offices of T. Andrew Miller, LLC, we handle many types of car accident cases in and around Atlanta. Call us at 678-605-9109 for an appointment to discuss your case. The consultation is free, so there is no reason to put off the call!