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When is a Municipality Liable for a Car Accident?


Car accidents can cause a victim to suffer devastating injuries, and it’s crucial to ensure you recover the compensation to which you’re entitled from the negligent party. But sometimes, the responsible party isn’t another driver on the road — instead, it might be a municipality. Just as private entities and individuals can be held legally accountable for a car crash, there may be instances in which a municipality should be named in a personal injury lawsuit.  

When Can a Municipality Be Held Accountable for a Motor Vehicle Accident?

A municipality such as the City of New York, a town, or a village has a duty to maintain the roads for which it is responsible in a safe condition for all drivers. It also has a legal obligation to remove or remedy any hazards and eliminate dangerous roadway conditions. Some common reasons a municipality might be held liable for a car accident can include:

  • Design defects in the road
  • Failure to properly maintain the road
  • Neglecting to repair potholes
  • Inadequate or missing signage
  • Construction debris
  • Unclear lane lines
  • Missing guardrails
  • Poorly designed intersections

A municipality might also be held responsible if the car accident involves a city vehicle. Importantly, if the basis of the negligence claim involves a road defect, the municipality must have had prior written notice of the hazardous condition and failed to make timely repairs. For instance, New York City’s “pothole law” specifies that the City has 15 days from the date of the written notice to remedy the issue. If your accident occurred on the 16th day from the time someone had reported the problem, you may be entitled to bring a lawsuit.  

The Statute of Limitations for Suing a Municipality

It’s essential to understand that if a municipality should incur liability for your car accident, special statutes of limitation apply. For example, if you must name the City of New York, a city entity, or a city agency in a lawsuit, a Notice of Claim must be served on the City and the applicable agency within 90 days of the accident. Failure to do so can forever bar you from later bringing a lawsuit against the City for your accident-related injuries.

The purpose of a Notice of Claim is to put the city entity on alert that you intend to file suit against them. It also gives them the opportunity to investigate the facts and circumstances of the accident at an early stage while the evidence is still available. Once a Notice of Claim has been served, at least 30 days must pass before a lawsuit can be commenced. Critically, there is a one-year and 90-day statute of limitations in place to file a lawsuit in court.    

Recoverable Damages in a Car Accident Case Involving a Municipality

If you prevail in a lawsuit against a municipality for your car accident-related injuries, you may be entitled to a wide variety of damages. By commencing a personal injury action, you may be able to recover your economic damages, including your lost wages, medical expenses, and out-of-pocket expenses connected with your medical treatment.

You might also be entitled to monetary compensation for the pain and suffering you experienced due to your motor vehicle accident injuries. Pain and suffering damages are usually the largest portion of recovery in a car accident lawsuit. These damages are meant to compensate you for the loss of enjoyment of life you suffered, as well as the physical pain and mental anguish caused by your injuries.

Contact an Experienced New York Personal Injury Attorney

If you were in a car accident due to the negligence of a municipality, you may have suffered severe and debilitating injuries. It’s vital to have a personal injury attorney on your side with extensive knowledge and experience regarding these types of lawsuits to ensure you recover the compensation you deserve. The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. has over 30 years of experience representing clients in a wide variety of personal injury claims — including those involving the City of New York and other municipalities.

The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. has convenient office locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, as well as mobile locations serving Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester, Rockland County, Nassau County, and Suffolk County. Contact us today for a free consultation.