In Brown v. RK Hall Construction, Ltd., a 21-year-old plaintiff drank alcohol at a friend’s house and then tried to drive home shortly after midnight. The plaintiff drove into a construction zone, hit a piece of construction machinery that was parked in an area surrounded by a barricade away from the traffic lane, and suffered serious injuries.
A trooper came to the scene and reported that she’d ignored a warning sign and drove into the barricaded area. The plaintiff argued that she saw the barricades, but they were in the middle of the highway and didn’t show which lane was closed. She sued the contractors, RK Hall and Stacy Lyon, for negligently failing to generate and implement a plan for traffic safety. The contractors argued in response that they’d complied with the Texas Department of Transportation Traffic Control Plan for the project. The trial court agreed with the contractors and granted summary judgment for them.
The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court explained that contractors that repair roads for the state must conform to the specifications of the governmental unit supervising the work. A contractor for the Texas Department of Transportation that substantially complies with contract documents is immune from liability in personal injury lawsuits brought as a result of the work.
Under Section 97.002 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, a contractor repairing a highway in Texas isn’t liable for injuries arising out of the performance of repairs if at the time of the injuries, it was in compliance with the contract documents that are material to the defect or condition that was a legal cause of the injuries.
In this case, the contractors doing roadwork for the Department of Transportation raised the affirmative defense that they’d complied with the Plan requirements for the condition that caused the accident. The appellate court explained that the engineer who developed the traffic control plans had testified contractors weren’t authorized to make changes to them without prior approval. After looking at photos, he concluded that the placement of barricades had been in conformity with the Plan and that the shuttle buggy into which the plaintiff had crashed was set 30 feet from the traffic lane, as the Plan required.
An inspector testified he’d examined the setup of the traffic control devices two times a day, and the placement of the devices complied with the Plan. He’d personally examined the construction site before leaving the site on the day before the accident, and everything was in its place, including the shuttle buggy.
An RK Hall employee testified that the contractors had never been told any of the devices were out of place. He agreed with the inspector that the placement of devices was in conformity with the Plan.
The plaintiff argued that the contractors could have added more barricades to make the work zone safer, citing contractor testimony that they could have improved the plan without permission. She submitted the affidavit of an expert on the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices to support this argument. The contractors argued, and the court agreed, that the affidavit was too conclusory. A forensic engineer’s affidavit that channeling devices should have been added was also submitted.
The appellate court explained that the expert hadn’t traveled on the west terminus of the project. He had merely reviewed videotape. It also explained that the plaintiff’s accident was well before the place where the expert claimed a specific type of barrier was needed to be in compliance with the contract documents. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
If you are hurt in a car accident in a construction zone, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.