Last week, a notice letter sent by the State of Illinois to its contractors was published in the media. The letter notifies the contractors that they are to stop all work on Illinois roads, except work necessary for safety reasons.
Specifically, all work is to stop on Illinois highways and roads as of July 1, 2017, unless it involves “… maintenance of existing traffic controls, maintenance of erosion and sediment controls and such efforts that will secure conditions of danger to the highway system….”
Illinois Financial Crisis and Danger of Accidents
What’s going on here? The State of Illinois has money troubles. Some go so far as to assert that Illinois is bankrupt, and economic studies are seriously disturbing. For details, read the information provided by ZeroHedge in its June 15, 2017, article “Unable To Pay Bills, Illinois Sends “Dear Contractor” Letter Telling Firms To Halt Road Work On July 1.”
And a few days ago, CBS News reported a story asking “Could Illinois be the First State to File Bankruptcy?” When a state’s financial situation is compared to Detroit and Puerto Rico, then it’s looking pretty grim.
Of course, this is a dire situation on many fronts for those living and working in Illinois. However, from a personal injury perspective, there is a growing concern because lack of funding for all of these highway and road projects means one thing: an increased risk of accidents resulting in serious injury and wrongful death on Illinois roadways.
Dangers on Illinois Roads for Accidents and Fatalities
For those of us who travel and drive along Illinois roads, we know that there are already some real dangers for anyone driving in Illinois. For instance, there’s the stretch of Highway 34 near Monmouth that is notorious for accidents.However, any road can be dangerous given the right conditions.
- Bad Weather Cracks and Pot Holes: Bad weather, for instance, can make roads slippery in summer rains and winter ice. Bad weather conditions also mean that road crews need to closely monitor roadways for cracks and pot holes, which can cause drivers to lose control and crash if not repaired.
- Road Debris: Road debris is yet another risk for motor vehicle accidents on any roadway. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA) reports there are more than 25,000 motor vehicle accidents each year caused by road debris. Road debris can involve all sorts of things, from tree branches, to bits of a blown tire, to grease and oil leaked from motors of moving vehicles.
Illinois Financial Crisis and Road Accident Danger
Stop work orders to contractors mean that there will not be new changes made to existing roads or the building of new roads in Illinois because there is not money to pay for them. That’s a danger if these projects would have helped make the roadways safer for drivers.
However, limited funding also means there will be less money to pay for road repair and maintenance. Monitoring for dangers may not be as diligent as it was in the past, or as it may be in other states.
Illinois is not stopping work for things that “secure conditions of danger to the highway system,” according to its notice. But what will that mean in real terms?
Liability for Accidents Due to Road Conditions
A number of parties can be responsible for accidents that happen due to bad road conditions and road hazards. It will depend upon the circumstances of the individual case.
For instance, if a major trucking company fails to keep up the maintenance on its semi-trucks and they leak oil or grease onto the roadway and cause an accident then that trucking company may be liable for the crash.
If that stretch of roadway has a build-up of oil from moving traffic that creates a slick spot and a road hazard, then it’s not caused by just one vehicle. It’s a build up over time. The state is required to monitor state roadways for these dangers.
Can Illinois Be Held Liable for Accidents Caused By Failure to Keep Up Roadways?
If funding means less stringent monitoring and maintenance of Illinois roadways and this hypothetical oil buildup causes a crash, then can the State be held accountable?
Maybe. States have been sued for the wrongful death of accident victims caused by failure to maintain roadways. See, State sued for fatal crash on 522, “highway of death.”
One thing to consider under these circumstances is the potential defense of “sovereign immunity,” which is a general rule that governmental bodies cannot be sued for damages in order to protect taxpayer dollars.
And a bigger hurdle: if the State is indeed bankrupt, as reported by CBS News, then where would the money be found to pay for the accident damages? Private corporations have liability insurance for these situations: what does Illinois do here?
For more, read our earlier post, “Fault for A Winter Traffic Accident: Government Liability for Winter Weather Car Crash,” and read about the lawsuit filed against the State of Indiana, among others, in the Indiana State Fair Tragedy.
If you or a loved one live or work in the State of Illinois, then you need to be more careful than ever while driving on Illinois roadways. Be aware and alert for road hazards, road debris, and things like pot holes and cracks in the road surface. Let’s be careful out there!