Caltrans is California’s repair and pathway construction agency that not only manages California’s highway system, including the California Freeway and Expressway system but is also involved in the state’s public transportation system. This agency is responsible for the design, construction, and maintenance of about 50,000 miles of roadways in the state.
Consequently, if you were in a car accident that resulted from poor road conditions, you may have a right to pursue legal action against Caltrans. However, proving that Caltrans was responsible for your damages is often a complex and challenging legal battle.
In this blog we will go over everything you need to know about filing a claim with Caltrans and how an experienced personal injury attorney can help you recover the financial recovery you deserve.
Caltrans operates under the California Department of Transportation (DOT), which means that the agency makes roadway repairs and warns drivers of dangers or threats on the roads. If the agency fails to make these repairs or does not warn others of these dangers when they are aware, their conduct could be considered reckless and negligent.
Caltrans must provide its employees and personnel with appropriate training. If they fail to meet these duties, victims can hold them liable for the often catastrophic consequences.
Dangers That Can Result From Caltrans Negligence
There are numerous instances where Caltrans can be found responsible for an accident or an injury. Take, for example, the following issues:
Not Fixing Dangerous Roads
Caltrans’s responsibility is to ensure that public roads are safe for drivers to use.
This means the agency needs to take appropriate action when a road becomes damaged or unsafe in any way, such as:
- Downed power lines
- Fallen trees on the roads
- Missing medians
- Defective guardrails
- Cracks in the street
- Unmarked trenches or sinkholes
- Improperly managed construction zones
Once Caltrans learns of these road hazards, they must correct them in a reasonable amount of time. If they fail to do so, you can hold them at fault for the injuries and damages you sustained from these hazards.
Caltrans Vehicles Hitting Other Motor Vehicles
Caltrans has a significant number of vehicles on the road throughout the state. Yet, although these vehicles are there to fix roads, in some instances, they can cause more damage than they repair.
These vehicles typically carry heavy loads, toxic chemicals, and supplies that can pose a severe risk for major accidents when not appropriately secured and controlled. As a result, if these accidents occur, Caltrans can be held liable for the devastating repercussions that ensue.
Not Protecting Bystanders
If an individual falls into an open trench or maintenance hole because there was no warning around it or it was inadequately covered, they can try to hold Caltrans liable for their harm and losses. However, holding a government agency responsible for your injuries and damages is often an uphill battle.
That is why, following your accident, reach out to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can go over your potential case, determine if you can pursue legal action, and help you fight for maximum compensation.
Common Injuries That Can Result From a Caltrans- Caused Accident
Typically, when it comes to Caltrans- caused accidents, the injuries that result will often vary in type and severity, depending on the circumstances of the accident.
However, these accidents can cause:
- Head and brain injuries
- Soft tissue injuries
- Spinal cord damage
- Facial injuries
- Psychological trauma
- Wrongful death
In addition, vehicles can also sustain significant damage in these accidents, including bent wheels, blown-out tires, broken windows, dents, scratches, and even damage to the car frame.
Filing a Claim with Caltrans For Your Injuries and Losses
You first need to file a claim before suing a governmental agency like Caltrans. You may file your claim directly with Caltrans for personal injury, damage to personal property, or the wrongful death of a loved one that you believe Caltrans caused and the amount of your claim is $10,000 or less.
However, if your claim is over $10,000 or deals with a different agency or department in California, you must file a claim with the Government Claims Program. This program allows you to demand compensation for your losses formally and settle your claim without the need to file a lawsuit.
Yet, before you proceed with these claims, it may be in your best interest to reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney. These lawyers can go over your accident, help you understand your legal options, and figure out your next steps.
How Long Do You Have to File a Claim Against Caltrans?
According to California’s regulations, if you plan to file a claim with a governmental entity, you must file your case within six months if the incident involved a personal injury, damages to personal property, or a wrongful death. However, if the incident resulted in a breach of contract, damage to real property, or equitable estoppel, this period is increased to one year.
In some instances, you may be able to file a late claim, but these types of filings are limited, and you do not have more than one year from the date of the injury to file this late claim. If you fail to file these claims within the allotted periods, you likely will be barred from pursuing compensation for your losses and injuries.
For these reasons, if you believe your accident was due to Caltrans’ negligence, it is in your best interest to reach out to an experienced legal professional as soon as possible. A lawyer can promptly review what happened, figure out precisely how much time you have to file your claim, then prepare and submit all the legal documentation before time expires
How Do You Show Caltrans Caused the Accident?
In general, many different factors determine liability for damages due to poor road maintenance.
Consequently, for a successful claim against Caltrans, a victim’s lawyer needs to prove:
- Caltrans had a duty to maintain the roadway that caused the victim’s harm and injuries.
- The roadway created a dangerous condition at the time of the injury.
- The victim’s injuries were the direct or proximate cause of the dangerous road conditions.
- Caltrans had a warning or action notice of the defective or dangerous roads and did not correct the problem within a reasonable period.
However, proving that Caltrans did not correct a dangerous roadway condition in a reasonable amount of time will often take a significant amount of testimony from experts in the transportation industry and research. Fortunately, when you retain an experienced personal injury attorney, these lawyers can handle this investigation and analysis on your behalf.
Possible Damages You Can Pursue
If you can prove that Caltrans was responsible for your accident and your injuries, you may be able to obtain compensation for the harm and losses you sustained. This compensation often includes both economic and non-economic damages, such as:
- Medical bills (hospital stay, emergency services, doctor visits, prescription medications, surgeries, and other medical treatments)
- Lost wages and lost earning capacity
- Personal property damages
- Rehabilitative therapy
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Limb loss
Steps to Take Following a Caltrans Accident
Although the below list is not exhaustive of everything you need to do following a Caltrans accident, you should consider the following steps at a minimum. These steps not only protect your health and safety after an accident but your legal rights.
Contact 911 Immediately
Following a Caltrans accident, you should contact 911 immediately. This is the fastest way to alert police and medical personnel of the incident and your injuries and get your accident on record.
Once the police arrive, they can perform a preliminary investigation into what happened and jot down their findings in their police report. If you decide to pursue legal action against Caltrans for your harm and losses, this police report can serve as valuable evidence.
If possible, collect as much evidence as possible following the accident. This evidence should include photos and videos of your visible injuries, the vehicles involved in the accident, the damage to your vehicle, the dangerous conditions that caused your accident, the weather conditions at the time of the incident, and any other evidence that can help show what happened.
However, if your injuries prevent you from obtaining any evidence, do not worry. After you retain an experienced personal injury lawyer, these attorneys can handle securing this evidence for you.
Check With Witnesses
If there were people who saw the accident make sure you get their names and contact details. These witnesses can often provide you and your lawyer with helpful information regarding the accident and help substantiate your claim.
However, as you talk to others following the accident, make sure you watch what you say. You do not want to make any definitive statements about what happened, apologize for anything that occurred, or take the blame for the incident. These types of comments can come back and hurt your case, impacting the amount of money you can receive.
Get to a Doctor
Even if your injuries appear minor, you still want to get to a doctor as soon as possible. These medical professionals can verify that you do not have any serious trauma that may not yet manifest, such as brain injuries, and prepare a medical report detailing your injuries.
This medical report can be valuable if you decide to bring a claim against Caltrans, as it can serve as evidence of a direct link between the harm you sustained and the accident in question.
Fight for Your Rights Following a Caltrans Accident
Taking on any government agency, including Caltrans, is a tedious and challenging ordeal. Not only do you have to have a thorough understanding of the laws surrounding these claims, but you also have to work fast, making sure you prepare strong legal arguments proving fault and damages within the appropriate time frames.
However, following these devastating accidents, securing evidence, and preparing legal arguments is probably the last thing you want to tackle. Fortunately, when you retain an experienced personal injury lawyer to take on your case, you will not have to worry about handling this legal fight alone.
These lawyers can:
- Investigate your accident themselves, as well as hire the best investigators and traffic engineers to gather the evidence needed to prove what happened and who was at fault for the harm and losses you endured.
- Use the evidence to build a strong case against Caltrans, proving their negligence or wrongful actions were the cause of your accident and injuries.
- Bring in other experts such as accident reconstructionist to validate your claim.
- Take your case to trial, if needed, and fight for maximum compensation.
If you or a loved one suffered significant harm because of Caltrans, you may have options available to obtain compensation for these losses and injuries. However, remember, time is not on your side. Do not wait any longer to secure the legal help you need. Instead, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today for your free case consultation and find out how they can obtain the justice you deserve.