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Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
April 1, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402
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Pothole Was Repaired after Louisiana Parish Notified of Hazard; Parish Not Liable Without Knowledge of Recurrence

Sandra Patterson sued the City of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the Parish of East Baton Rouge after being injured when she hit a pothole and lost control of her vehicle. The Nineteenth Judicial District Court of East Baton Rouge Parish decided the plaintiff did not prove the defendants had actual or constructive knowledge of the pothole. Patterson appealed; the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit affirmed.

TRIAL COURT DECISION

In East Baton Rouge on April 29, 1988, according to Sandra Patterson, she struck a pothole on Brown Road and lost control of her vehicle. At the resulting trial, Patterson's husband and three independent witnesses "testified unequivocally that they were absolutely sure the pothole was never repaired before the accident." Ronnie L. Terrell, the plaintiff's husband, was living with the plaintiff on Brown Road when the crash happened. He said the pothole that caused the crash existed and remained unrepaired for months before the crash. Brown Road neighbors Mabel and Albert Tranchina and school bus driver Wilhelmina Stoetzner (who drove Brown Road twice daily five days a week) corroborated Terrell's testimony.

The defendant public entities stipulated at trial that they were responsible for Brown Road's repair and maintenance. In addition, the defendants indicated they received a complaint to their Citizens Service Office on January 20, 1988 concerning the pothole at the crash site. However, Andrew Tolbert, Department of Public Works supervisor, testified that on February 4, 1988 he filled potholes on Brown Road. Tolbert showed a notation in his handwritten maintenance log indicating pothole work had been done on that date. He testified he did not record pothole work on a particular road until after he finished the entire road. Attorneys showed Tolbert a photograph of the pothole that caused the crash and asked if he remembered repairing the hole. He responded, "I don't remember the hole, but if that hole was on there on February 4, 1988 I filled it."

The question here became whether the defendants repaired the pothole on February 4, 1988--after the January 20 complaint but before the April 29 crash. No complaints came to the defendants between February 4 and the date of the crash. Therefore, as long as the defendants made repairs after receiving notice on January 20 of the hazardous pothole, they would not have had actual or constructive knowledge that the pothole again needed repair before the crash.

The trial court found in favor of the City and Parish and dismissed the case. Patterson appealed.

APPELLATE COURT DECISION

The appellate court pointed out that they were required to "review the record in its entirety to determine whether the trial court's finding was clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous." Therefore, the court reviewed the record and concluded there were "two permissible views of the evidence regarding whether defendant had actual or constructive notice of this pothole." The trial court's finding that Tolbert's testimony was more credible that the testimony of Patterson and her supporting witnesses was not, in the opinion of the appellate court, unreasonable. Where the trial court was not clearly wrong, the appellate court affirmed.

[For further reference, see Patterson v. City of Baton Rouge (La.App. 1 Cir. 1993) in West Publishing Vol. 622 Southern Reporter, 2d Series, 1386]

Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.


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