Protection After a Sinkhole Accident
It’s not something that happens every day, but sinkhole accidents do happen. In fact, the last one that happened in Arizona was just at the end of last year. In early October 2018, a Phoenix intersection was completely closed because of a sinkhole that developed during a day of record rainfall.
If you have been involved in an accident involving a sinkhole, it’s important to know what legal protection you can obtain.
Can You File a Lawsuit Following a Sinkhole Accident?
Yes, if you’ve been involved in a sinkhole accident, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit.
You’ve seen ads on TV, posters on the sides of buses or bus stops, and maybe have even received ads in the mail for personal injury attorneys. But what exactly is a personal injury case? And how can a personal injury attorney help?
A personal injury attorney handles any number of things that are “personal injuries,” including car and bus accidents, elevator accidents, accidents that occur on city streets, bed bugs, dog bites, construction accidents, wrongful deaths, and sinkhole accidents.
A personal injury can be defined as a physical and/or mental injury that occurs because of someone else’s negligence, intentional actions, or strict liability.
Negligence: when another party fails to act with reasonable care. For example: if you suffer physical injuries as the result of a driver rear-ending you because they are not paying attention, the injuries could be deemed a personal injury due to negligence.
Intentional Harm: when another person sets out to hurt you. Examples include battery, assault, and false imprisonment.
Strict Liability: if you are injured by a product (such as a malfunctioning car), anyone involved in the production, distribution, or sale of the defective product can be held responsible.
Every day cars are damaged as a result of poor road conditions, including sinkholes. When cars are damaged, that means people are injured. These injuries could be prevented if the roads were kept clear. Because roads are maintained by cities and states, it’s often in their best interest to blame the driver, and not the road. This is why it’s advised that you work with a personal injury attorney if you are injured as the result of poorly maintained roads.
Sinkhole on Personal Property
If you are injured by a sinkhole on someone’s property, you might be able to sue the property owner under premises liability. Homeowners have a duty to maintain a safe environment for guests to their property.
It might seem easy or fair just to blame a property owner for sinkhole injuries, but that’s not always the case. While we all have a responsibility to watch where we are going, pay attention to signs, and be aware of where we are placing our feet, there are times when a property owner can be held responsible for the upkeep of their property. Sometimes a property owner is responsible, and sometimes he or she is not.
There is no precise formula for determining if someone is legally responsible if a sinkhole accident occurs, or if you were careless or unaware. There has to a level of responsibility that should be taken on both your part and the property owner. However, property owners do need to be careful in keeping up their property. Here are some general rules for determining if someone else was at fault for a sinkhole accident.
In order for you to prove that someone else is legally responsible, one of the following must be true:
- The property owner or an employee must have been aware of the dangerous surface and yet did nothing about it.
- The property owner or an employee should have been aware of the dangerous surface because a “reasonable” person in charge of taking care of the property would have discovered the danger and taken precautions to remove or repair the situation.
Often times a judge will determine if the property owner was careful by looking at if the owner took steps to keep the property safe.
Often times negligence claims hinge on the idea of a person acting “reasonably.” The law often concentrates on if the property owner has made regular and thorough efforts to maintain the safety of the property. Here are some questions that are weighed in determining this:
- Had that dangerous spot been there long enough that a property owner should have been aware of it?
- Does the property owner regularly examine and clean or repair the property? Is there a set procedure for doing so? If so, does the owner have proof of this regular maintenance?
- Could the sinkhole have been removed or covered to make the situation safe?
- Could a warning sign or barrier been created to prevent people from injury?
- Was poor lighting or broken lighting a contributing factor to the accident?
These are all considerations that must be asked before determining liability in these types of accidents. Still, if you have been injured in a sinkhole accident, you will also need to determine if you acted carelessly.
If you have been injured in a sinkhole accident, you will also need to weigh your own carelessness before considering if you want to pursue a lawsuit. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Did you have a legitimate reason (a reason that a property owner should have anticipated) for being where the dangerous area was?
- Would a careful person have noticed the dangerous area and avoided it? Would they have walked carefully enough to not be injured?
- Were there any warnings - such as posted signs - that the spot might be dangerous?
- Were you doing anything that distracted you (texting, etc…) from paying attention to where you were going? Were you running, walking quickly, jumping, or acting in a way that would have made the accident more likely?
While you won’t need to “prove” that you were careful, it’s important that you consider what you were doing and be able to describe it so that an insurance adjuster or lawyer will be able to understand that you were not acting carelessly when the accident happened.