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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-128
Date: July 2006

Lesson 22: Tort Liability and Risk Management

The photograph shows a spalled and crumbling sidewalk along a residential street. Ramps down to the street look treacherous and unsafe.

Lesson Outline

  • Trends in tort liability.
  • Basic definitions.
  • Common problems/issues.
  • Risk management strategies.

Trends in Tort Liability

  • State DOTs:
    – 80 lawsuits per year.
    – 7% settled against.
    – $60,000 average settlement.
    – Defense costs $68,000 per case.
  • City/County Agencies
    – 3 lawsuits per year.
    – 50% settled against.
    – $230,000 average settlement.
    – Defense costs $72,000 per case.

Basic Definitions

  • Tort.
  • Negligence.
  • Ordinary care.
  • Immunity:
    – Sovereign.
    – Limited.

The photograph shows busy roadway with several large trucks towing recreational campers. There is a sidewalk on both sides of the road when crossing a bridge, but the sidewalks have not been given adequate clearance from the travel lanes. A warning sign at the beginning of the bridge shows a symbol of a vehicle mirror striking a pedestrian with the text - VEHICLE MIRROR HAZARD.

Common Problems in Tort Claims

  • Drainage grates.
  • Path discontinuity.
  • Inadequate curve radii.
  • Surface problems.
  • Lack of consideration for bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • Bridges and underpasses.
  • Poor sight distance.
  • Poor maintenance.

The photograph shows a sidewalk that ends at a bridge abutment, with no warning or routing signs for pedestrians. A person is standing at the end of the sidewalk, peeking around to bridge abutment to determine if there is oncoming traffic.

The picture shows a bicyclist entering a walled section of a shared use trail. Numerous trail underpass and bridges are present in the picture.

Risk Management

  • Use proactive strategy:
    Document existing conditions.
    Review conditions in context of ordinary care guidelines and standards.
    Develop recommendations.
    Set priorities for action.

Lesson Summary

  • Tort liability is an issue (as it is in all road design aspects).
  • The risk associated with providing pedestrian and bicycle facilities can be managed.
  • A plan of prudent design, operations, and maintenance will help to manage the risk.



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