Steering Clear of Tort Claims

by Daniel S. Turner, (M.ASCE), Prof. and Head; Dept. of Civ. Engrg., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL,
Joseph D. Blaschke, Pres.; Transportation Engineering Analysts, Bryan, TX,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1992, Vol. 62, Issue 7, Pg. 54-56

Document Type: Feature article


Tort liability has become a major issue for today's highway engineer. Claims against state highway departments charging that deficient roadways caused or contributed to traffic accidents have skyrocketed over the past two decades, and associated costs are claiming a sizable�and growing�chunk of already tight transportation budgets, with no signs of leveling off. According to American Association of State Highway Officials and University of Alabama surveys, claims have grown about 2,000 in 1972, to between 33,000 and 35,000 in 1990, costing state DOTs $200 million-$300 million to defend suits and to pay off claims and judgments. Every dollar spent on legal battles is one less available for needed construction, reconstruction and repair projects. And concerns over potential lawsuits may lead engineers to become overcautious, stifling design innovation. Fear of lawsuits shouldn't be allowed to stifle design innovation, but engineers would be wise to think more carefully about their design decisions�and document them thoroughly.

Subject Headings: Traffic accidents | Claims | Litigation | Innovation | Construction management | Traffic signs | Project management

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