How Design Immunity May Prevent an Accident Victim’s Lawsuit Against a Government Entity

There are almost an infinite number of causes of traffic accidents. While many accidents are caused by the negligence of one or more motorists, sometimes the way a road or intersection is designed is so dangerous that the government can be at fault for the dangerous design. However, in some cases, government entities are entitled to immunity from these lawsuits if the government followed certain procedures in designing and building the roadway. If a government is entitled to design immunity, a plaintiff’s lawsuit will be dismissed. A recent case illustrates how design immunity may be applied by a court.

Gonzales v. City of Atwater:  The Facts

In 2010, Gonzales was struck and killed by a vehicle in an Atwater intersection as he was crossing the road. Gonzales’ family filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the City of Atwater as well as against the driver of the vehicle that struck Gonzales.

Throughout the trial, the city argued that it should be dismissed from the lawsuit because it was entitled to design immunity. Specifically, the city argued that it had relied on a study that was commissioned back in 2001 on how to make the intersection safer. The study came back with several suggestions, which the city implemented. Notwithstanding the city’s arguments, the trial court denied the city’s motions seeking dismissal. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury determined that the other driver was not at fault for the accident and that the City of Atwater was liable. The plaintiffs were awarded $3.2 million.

The city appealed the trial court’s decision not to grant its motions on design immunity. The court began its analysis by outlining what a government entity must prove to establish design immunity. First, a causal connection must be established between the design of the intersection and the accident. Second, the government entity must show that a government agent approved the plan as a matter of the agent’s discretion. Finally, the government must show that the plans were reasonable when they were implemented.

The court explained that all of these elements were met in the case before it. The plaintiff’s main argument was that the government failed to show that it exercised “discretionary authority” in approving the plan because it could not describe the specific “deliberative process” that it had used. However, the court rejected this argument, holding that only when a decision is arbitrary or without basis will this prong not be met. As a result, the court determined that all of the elements of design immunity were met, and it was an error for the lower court to deny the city’s motion.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. If you believe that your accident was caused in part due to the dangerous design of a road or intersection, you may still be entitled to compensation; however, you will likely need to overcome the issue of government immunity. The skilled injury attorneys at the Maryland-based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have decades of experience representing clients in cases against negligent government entities, and we are happy to meet with you free of charge to discuss your case. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free, no-obligation consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Court Allows Plaintiff’s Bad-Faith Claim Against Insurance Company to Proceed, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published December 2, 2016.

Head-On Collisions on Maryland Roads May Increase as Winter Approaches, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published December 9, 2016.

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