The Georgia Department of Transportation has a legal responsibility to maintain Georgia’s roads, so they are safe for drivers. GDOT failed to repair a dangerously low road shoulder that caused a wreck that killed our client’s wife. BBGA attorneys Michael Ruppersburg and Tyler Mathis secured a $1,400,000 settlement with GDOT and the at-fault driver. The settlement included $1,300,000 from GDOT and the at-fault driver’s $100,000 insurance policy limits.

We represented Mrs. C’s husband in the case. Mrs. C. was a 39-year-old mother of three children who worked as a nurse. She was on her way to work in Conyers when the wreck happened.

Photo Courtesy of Larry Stanford, Rockdale Citizen

Edge of Pavement Drop-Off Leads to Fatal Crash

The technical term for a low shoulder is an edge of pavement drop-off (EOPD). GDOT considers any EOPD greater than two inches unsafe – but this EOPD was approximately 7-8 inches. EOPDs are dangerous because when a vehicle encounters one, the average driver does not know how to re-enter the roadway safely. The driver often over-corrects trying to get back onto the road and can cross over into oncoming traffic and cause a wreck, which is what happened in this case. Multiple GDOT employees testified this edge of pavement drop-off was unsafe. GDOT’s policy is to repair EOPDs “as soon as possible after discovery.”

On April 3, 2019, Mrs. C was driving south on Highway 138 in Rockdale County. Another driver was traveling north on Highway 138 in her SUV. The other driver’s passenger-side wheel dropped off the side of the road onto the 7–8-inch EOPD. When the other driver attempted to get back on the road, her SUV over-corrected, crossed the center line, and crashed into Mrs. C’s vehicle head-on. Mrs. C was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Lawsuit

During the lawsuit, we obtained GDOT work orders showing that GDOT employees worked on this part of Highway 138 at least 12 times in the four months before the wreck. GDOT employees testified that they are trained to look for and report EOPD like this one. Further, the GDOT maintenance foreman for this area testified that he inspected Highway 138 once a month looking for road defects. Given this, the employees can and should have noticed and reported the EOPD.

Additionally, GDOT employees testified that they can and do fix edge of pavement drop-offs the same day they notice them or receive complaints about them. The maintenance foreman testified that if she had seen this EOPD, she would have repaired it that same day because it was dangerous and it only would have taken about an hour to repair.

Based on this evidence, we believed we had a strong case against GDOT. Then we found a Facebook comment by a witness on a news article about the wreck. We spoke with the witness, and she had reported the shoulder to GDOT the day before the wreck. She still had the email from the DOT saying they had received her complaint. She and her husband both signed affidavits stating the shoulder had been like that for several months before the crash.

The Settlement under the State Tort Claims Act

In a wrongful death case under the State Tort Claims Act, the wrongful death claim is capped at $1,000,000, and the estate’s pain and suffering claim is capped at $1,000,000.

The settlement included $1,000,000 for the full value of Mrs. C’s life, which is the maximum allowed under the statute. The settlement also included $300,000 for the shock and fright she suffered before the wreck, which Georgia law calls pre-impact pain and suffering.

We know that no amount of money will bring back Mrs. C and ease the pain of her family and friends, but we are proud to have helped Mr. C with his case. We hope that this case will help prevent something like this from happening to another family.

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