Over the course of a year, drivers in the greater Chicago area likely travel upon hundreds, if not thousands, of individual roads, streets, expressways, and interstates. These roads are constructed and maintained by numerous construction workers and employees who place themselves at risk of danger as they work to repair potholes, broken road surfaces, and other defects.
The laws in Illinois require that construction sites be maintained in a safe manner so that employees have to undertake as little risk of injury as possible. But risk is inherent and construction accidents continue to occur annually, many of which take place in Chicago and the suburban areas. When an accident does occur, the victim of that incident may incur medical expenses and be forced to miss time from work, placing that victim in a financially worse situation than if the incident had never occurred.
Fortunately for workers in Illinois, the state laws protect victims who are hurt through negligence of others. When it comes to a construction accident, it may be possible for a worker to seek relief against a responsible party, whether it is an employer, another company at the site, or a municipality like a city or state. At a minimum, all workers are protected by workers' compensation laws which entitle them to necessary medical treatment and financial damages in the event of an on-the-job accident, regardless of who is to blame.
- Workers’ compensation. At a minimum, all workers have protections by workers’ compensation laws that entitle them to necessary medical treatment and financial damages in the event of an on-the-job accident, regardless of who is to blame.
- Third-party claim. Injured workers may also have the option of filing a personal injury claim against a negligent third party. A worker can pursue a third-party claim against anyone other than their employer, supervisor, or co-worker if that party caused or contributed to the road collapse or another type of construction accident.
But what is the difference between workers’ compensation and third-party claims? Unlike workers’ compensation claims, which provide benefits to injured workers regardless of fault, third-party claims require evidence of fault. In other words, it means that the injured worker must prove that the defendant (the third party) owed them a duty of care, breached the duty, and the breach caused the injury and compensable damages.
Street Failure and Road Collapse Accidents
Construction workers are at risk for a number of common accidents, including incidents caused by street failures. Much of the construction industry deals with road work and therefore many construction workers are exposed to repairs and removal of road surfaces. Ideally, this work is conducted in a safe manner that does not place unnecessary risk, but too often, that is not the case. Numerous workers are injured every year while working on a road's surface that collapses, caves in, or otherwise gives way, often leading to a substantial fall to the street's subsurface.
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration ("OSHA"), there were 4,175 workers killed on the job in 2012 alone. Of those victims, 806 were involved in construction accidents, meaning that just under 20 percent of all workers killed were construction employees. More than half of the fatal construction accidents were caused by one of the Fatal Four incidents, which, in descending order, were falls, being struck by an object, electrocution, and being trapped or caught between objects.
Falls were the single most fatal type of construction incident in all of 2012 across the country because a fall can prove deadly even if it is from a short height. When a road's surface collapses, a worker in the area may be unable to avoid a fall, risking his or her safety and even his or her life.
Ideally, this work happens in a safe manner that does not place unnecessary risk, but too often, that is not the case. Numerous workers are injured every year while working on a road’s surface that collapses, caves in, or otherwise gives way, often leading to a substantial fall to the street’s subsurface.
An incident of a street failure can trigger legal claims on behalf of anyone injured in the accident or on behalf of a victim’s surviving family members. It may be possible to bring a third-party claim, a workers’ compensation claim, or even both, depending on the facts and circumstances of any individual street failure.
How to Prove a Third-Party Claim?
When bringing a third-party claim against a negligent party, the injured worker must prove four elements of negligence. The same requirement applies to third-party wrongful death lawsuits filed by surviving family members of those who die at work as a result of a third party’s negligence or wrongful conduct.
For a third-party claim to succeed, the injured worker must prove:
- Duty of care. The third-party owed the worker a duty of care.
- Breach. The party breached the duty of care.
- Causation. The breach was a direct or proximate cause of the worker’s injury.
- Damages. The injured worker suffered damages because of the third party’s negligence.
Filing a personal injury claim against a third party requires the plaintiff (the injured party) to demonstrate sufficient evidence proving negligence on the part of the defendant (the negligent third party). In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant did something that a reasonable person would not have done under similar circumstances.
What Is the Deadline for Filing Third-Party Claims?
Under 735 ILCS 5/13-202, the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits is two years from the date of sustaining an injury. However, the law extends the time limit for third-party claims to four years if the plaintiff suffered injuries in a construction accident.
However, if your accident was the result of negligence on the part of a government entity, you might have limited time to sue. In fact, those who want to sue government agencies might have to file a notice of claim before filing a lawsuit. Consider contacting an experienced attorney to identify liable parties in your road collapse accident and start working on your case as soon as possible.
What Compensation Can You Obtain Through a Third-Party Claim?
Injured workers who suffer injuries because of a third party’s negligence in construction accidents, including road collapses, can seek compensation for:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Loss of income
- Diminished earning potential
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
The compensable damages vary greatly and depend on the severity of the injured party’s injuries and the impact of those injuries on the person’s life, emotional well-being, and ability to work.
The Hazards of Construction Zones
Road maintenance must set up work zones, also known as construction zones, to repair and fix roads and eliminate dangerous road conditions. However, construction zones contribute to the increase in car accidents, especially when the zone does not have proper warning signs or barriers.
According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), there were a total of 1,435 work zone fatalities in 2018 and 2019.
Some of the hazards associated with construction zones include:
- Inadequate warning signs (or lack thereof)
- Construction materials
- Heavy machinery and equipment
- Unclear barriers
Drivers must pay attention to the signage when proceeding through a work zone. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for road maintenance crews to place insufficient or misleading signs, which contribute to accidents between confused drivers. For example, if there are no signs warning drivers that a lane is about to end because of the work zone, a driver may fail to reduce the speed in time to avoid driving through the work zone at a high rate of speed.
Types of Poor Road Conditions
Construction workers who perform road maintenance work are not the only ones who can suffer injuries due to road collapse and other types of roadway defects. Drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and other road users may also get hurt in accidents caused by poor road conditions.
Some of the most common types of roadway defects include:
- Uneven pavement. When pavement is uneven, it can eventually lead to road collapses when road maintenance crews or authorities fail to address the issue on time. Accidents are bound to happen when drivers do not anticipate uneven road surfaces and travel at high speeds.
- Improper road design. Professionals should design roads with safety in mind. When roads do not ensure motorists’ safety because of their inadequate design (e.g., blind curves or sharp turns), drivers are more likely to be involved in collisions.
- Improperly maintained traffic signals or signs. When traffic lights malfunction or road signs are not visible or foliage obscures them, drivers may not know how to proceed through the intersection and who has the right of way.
- Lack of warning signs. This is a common cause of work zone accidents. When inadequate signs warn about construction zones or other road hazards, drivers may not know how to proceed through the work zone safely.
- Potholes. Potholes can form as a result of the underlying fill soil collapsing due to inclement weather, drastic changes in temperature, and traffic-induced fatigue. Driving over a pothole can cause the motorist to lose control of the vehicle and collide with a fixed object on the road or a moving vehicle.
All road defects are equally dangerous. If you believe that your car accident was the result of road collapse or other poor road conditions, consider contacting a skilled personal injury attorney to determine liability and help you pursue maximum compensation.
Who Is Liable for Car Accidents Involving Road Defects?
When roads collapse, who is responsible for resulting accidents and injuries? Typically, it is the responsibility of government entities to properly maintain public roadways. Liability for a car crash caused by road defects depends on the location of the accident. Each government entity is responsible for the maintenance of roads under its jurisdiction.
Cities and municipalities also accept complaints from residents who inform them of road defects. Failure to respond to such complaints in time can make the government entity liable for any resulting damages and losses caused by the defect. However, just because you suffered injuries in a car crash due to poor road conditions does not necessarily mean that the government is not always at fault.
You still need to prove that the government entity responsible for road maintenance in the area knew about the defect and failed to remedy it within a reasonable amount of time. If a victim cannot prove that the government was aware of the road collapse or other road defects, they may not obtain compensation for their injuries and losses.
Thus, when filing a claim against a government entity after a car crash caused by road defects, a victim must prove:
- The government entity has jurisdiction over the road where your accident occurred, and one of its responsibilities is to perform road maintenance work;
- The entity knew about the dangerous road condition, which eventually caused your accident;
- The entity failed to take reasonable steps to fix the condition despite its knowledge of the problem;
- You were involved in an accident due to a road defect and suffered actual damages because of it.
Often, a victim’s ability to sue the government for road defects depends on their ability to find records of complaints related to the defect to prove the entity’s knowledge of the dangerous condition.
The Challenges of Suing a Government Entity for Road Collapses and Defects
Filing a lawsuit against a government entity is more complicated than suing a private citizen in the state of Illinois. There are several challenges people may encounter when attempting to obtain compensation from the government.
Here are some challenges:
- Understand your right to file a claim. In some states, injured individuals cannot sue the government due to the theory called “sovereign immunity.” However, the Illinois Court of Claims Act limits the application of sovereign immunity. It means that you might sue a government entity if your case meets specific requirements. For this reason, you might want to consult with an experienced attorney to determine if you have a right to file a claim against the government.
- File a notice of the claim. One of the differences between suing a government and suing a private citizen or entity is that you have to file a notice of the claim before filing a lawsuit. Under Illinois law, your lawyer must submit the notice to the Attorney General and the Clerk of the Court of Claims within one year from the date of sustaining your injury. Alternatively, the injured party can file a lawsuit with the Court of Claims within one year from the date of the injury.
- Consult an attorney. Suing a government involves specific procedural requirements that you must follow to prevail on your claim. For this reason, the injured victim might want to contact a knowledgeable attorney to help them handle their claim and pursue the compensation they deserve.
If you believe that a government entity caused your accident involving road collapses or road defects, speak with an attorney to help you navigate the legal process from start to finish.
Legal Options for Street Failure Victims
An incident of a street failure can trigger a number of legal claims on behalf of anyone injured in the accident or on behalf of a victim's surviving family members. It may be possible to bring a third party claim, a workers' compensation claim, or even both, depending on the facts and circumstances of any individual street failure.
The legal team at Abels & Annes, P.C. believes that all victims should have a lawyer on their side, fighting for their rights. We have experience representing the construction industry victims and we are ready to help you as well. We keep a licensed lawyer standing by 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take your call and provide you with a free case consultation regarding your accident. You can reach us toll free at (855) LAW-CHICAGO (529-2442) or locally at (312) 924-7575. If you prefer to meet with us in person but you are too injured to travel, we also offer free in-hospital and in-home case consultations to suit your needs.
If you have been hurt while on the job, regardless of who was at fault for the incident, you may be entitled to legal relief. Call the injury lawyers at Abels & Annes, P.C. today and let us help you toward a path of recovery.
If you have been injured in a street failure construction accident, call us toll free at (855) LAW-CHICAGO or Contact Us online for a free case consultation.