Unsafe Roads in Georgia

Georgia has over 100,000 miles of roads, many of them in poor shape. The Georgia Department of Transportation has estimated the state needs an extra billion dollars per year simply to maintain existing roads. Until our state and local governments get serious about tackling this maintenance backlog, there will be an increasing number of wrecks caused by dangerous and unsafe roads.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by an unsafe road, intersection or bridge, the city, county, or state may be legally responsible for the wreck.


Lawsuits resulting from unsafe roads are typically called road defect lawsuits. Common road defects that can cause wrecks and injuries, resulting in a lawsuit, include:

  • Potholes, broken and uneven pavement
  • Steep drop-offs on the shoulder of the road
  • Inadequate sightlines at intersections
  • Improper drainage leading to puddling or standing water in roads
  • Missing stop signs, speed limit signs and other traffic control signs
  • Missing guardrails, barriers and lane dividers
  • Broken or malfunctioning traffic control devices
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Overgrown vegetation blocking stop signs and sight lines
  • Trees or other obstructions too close to the road


Depending on whether the wreck occurred on a city, county or state road, there are different legal standards to hold the government responsible for a road defect.


Under Georgia law, cities are legally responsible for injuries caused by road defects when the city negligently builds or maintains the road. And if there’s a state or county road that runs through city limits, the city is responsible for injuries caused by road defects if the city constructed or agreed to maintain the road.


With one exception, counties are immune from road defect lawsuits and cannot be held legally responsible for injuries caused by unsafe roads. The only exception is if a county employee negligently performs a “ministerial act” and has actual notice of a road defect, but successful road defect lawsuits against counties are rare.

One of the reasons cities maintain their streets and sidewalks is because they can be held legally responsible if someone is injured by an unsafe street. Since counties are immune from road defect lawsuits, they have less incentive to maintain their streets and keep them safe from road defects. Unfortunately, this leads to many dangerous and unsafe roads in more rural parts of the state.


Road defect lawsuits against the State are governed by the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The State may be held legally responsible in three situations:

  • When the road or intersection is not built in “substantial compliance” with generally accepted engineering or design standards in effect at the time of construction
  • When the State negligently maintains a road or intersection so that they are not in substantial compliance with their original design
  • For road defects such as potholes, broken pavement, trees in the road, malfunctioning stop signs that the State has notice of

Streets and sidewalks should be safe for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and cars. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in Atlanta and many other cities throughout Georgia. When a person is injured in an accident caused by an unsafe street or sidewalk, the city is legally responsible.


While cities are typically immune from lawsuits because of sovereign immunity, Georgia law creates an exception for situations where people are injured due to an unsafe road or sidewalk. O.C.G.A. 32-4-93 is the
law that makes a city responsible for injuries caused by roads and
sidewalks. A city is responsible when:

  • The city negligently constructed or maintained the road or sidewalk
  • The city had notice of the defect that caused the injury
  • The defect existed long enough that the city should have
    discovered and fixed it

Many cities have roads running through them that are county or state roads. Cities are not responsible for injuries caused by defects in these roads unless the city:

  • Constructed the road
  • Agreed to maintain the road


Here are examples of defects in roads and sidewalks that often cause accidents and injuries:

  • Potholes
  • Loose metal plates that cover potholes
  • Broken and uneven sidewalks
  • Uncovered water meters and broken water meter covers
  • Sewer grates with bars parallel to the curb
  • Missing stop signs or stop signs covered by trees or bushes


Before an injured person brings a lawsuit against a city they must send a formal legal notice to the city called an ante litem notice. The ante litem notice must be given within six months of the injury and state the time, date and place of the injury, how the injury happened and the extent of the person’s injuries, medical bills and lost wages. If the injured person does not send the city an ante litem notice, the injured person is forever barred from filing a lawsuit.

If you or a loved one has been injured because of a defective street or sidewalk, contact us for a free consultation about your legal rights. We have offices in Athens and Lake Oconee, and have successfully handled cases throughout Georgia.