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Can I sue the city if I drive into a sinkhole?

Taking Legal Action After an Injury

California owes a duty of care to maintain safe public roadways for its residents. City, county and state officials have the responsibility of repairing any defects, potholes or sinkholes that may compromise the safety of the Golden State’s public thoroughfares. If you drive into a sinkhole and suffer bodily injuries or incur harm to your vehicle, you may file a legal action for damages. 

Large gaps and openings in a road generally develop over time. When a public street begins to show signs of a hole, crack or other blemish, city officials must correct it. If fixing a problem is not immediately possible, officials must provide the state’s residents and guests with a reasonably clear warning to exercise caution or avoid the affected area. 

Orange cones or a visible sign steering traffic around a sinkhole generally provides sufficient warning to prevent injuries. A law enforcement official slowing down vehicles so they can pass safely around any holes or defects also provides effective guidance. Without a warning, however, a breach of duty occurs because motorists have a right to travel in safety. 

When an L.A. County resident’s car plunged down a 20-foot sinkhole during a rainy night, the driver suffered severe injuries. As reported by NBC News, she sustained a traumatic brain injury and suffered from post-concussive syndrome. The accident also left her with vision problems. 

Because she required extensive medical treatment, she sued the city for her expenses, losses and damage to her vehicle. Her complaint claimed negligence on the part of the city government’s failure to maintain the street. The city claimed that a sewage backup and an overflow of rainwater contributed to the sinkhole’s rapid growth. The lawsuit settled for $4 million.