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Georgia Court of Appeals Finds City Did not Have Constructive Knowledge of Road Defect

manholeWhile many accidents are caused by negligent or reckless drivers who fail to take adequate precautions on the road, this is not the only reason that accidents occur. Foreign objects, obstructions, dangerous weather, and other unanticipated conditions can also cause automobile accidents. While many of these may be chance mistakes, occasionally defects in road conditions or signage arise that could have been properly addressed and prevented had the proper parties had notice of these defects. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals considers whether a city had just such a defect in its roads, and whether it had sufficient knowledge of the defect such that it should have previously addressed it.

In this Georgia car accident case, J.B. was driving in the city when his car hit an area of broken pavement over a manhole. According to J.B., the hole in the pavement was so large that it caused his vehicle to veer out of control and into oncoming traffic. J.B. struck a vehicle headed in the other direction head-on, causing severe injuries. J.B. sued the City of Macon for his injuries and damages resulting from the collision, alleging that the City should have known about the damaged road around the manhole and should have addressed it, and that their negligent failure to do so caused his injuries. The City responded by filing a motion for summary judgment, arguing that J.B. had failed to provide actual evidence that the City had notice of the damaged road and could have repaired it prior to his accident. In response to this motion, J.B. produced pictures of the damage, taken two weeks after his accident, and argued that the damage to the road was such that the City should have had constructive notice of it. The trial court agreed and denied the motion. The City appealed.

On appeal, the City argued that the photographs produced by J.B. were not sufficient evidence of constructive notice because they did not provide any indication as to how long the road had been damaged. Under Tennessee law, the City has constructive knowledge of damage or a defect when the defect has existed for a long enough period of time that notice of the defect can be inferred. Evidence of constructive knowledge must be such that a jury could reasonably believe that the defect had been around long enough that the City should have had notice of it.

Here, the Court of Appeals held that J.B.’s photographs did not provide sufficient evidence of constructive notice. The photographs showed only that the defect continued to exist after his accident, but they did not give any indication as to how long the defect might have been in existence prior to his accident. Moreover, the Court held that any guesses as to how long the defect had existed would be pure speculation, which cannot form the basis for a judgment.

The Court also held that while the photographs showed extensive cracking and wear and tear around the manhole, it was impossible to know how long it might take to create such conditions, and the pictures alone could not lead the jury to an inference that the defect had been around long enough to put the City on constructive notice. Since J.B. did not provide any additional context or explanation for the pictures, or evidence of prior notice by the City, the Court of Appeals held that he did not meet his burden to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to constructive notice.

Plaintiffs in accident cases must always remember the importance of showing that defendants had knowledge of the circumstances or conditions that caused their accident. Defendants cannot be held liable for negligence if they had no knowledge about a dangerous condition, or the possibility of a dangerous condition. When you cannot show that actual knowledge exists, proving constructive knowledge may be your best option. Stephen M. Ozcomert has more than 20 years of experience representing clients who have been injured in car accidents in Atlanta and throughout Georgia, and he can help you craft a strong negligence claim. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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