Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, a governmental body may be held liable when its study of a traffic condition is plainly inadequate or there is no reasonable basis for its traffic plan. Once the state is made aware of a dangerous traffic condition it must undertake reasonable study thereof with an eye toward alleviating the danger. Moreover, after the State implements a traffic plan it is under a continuing duty to review its plan in the light of its actual operation.
The State built a viaduct that did not have a median barrier. Then State conducted a study, and determined that one should be built. Five years passed, and no action was taken. The plaintiff was hit while driving, and eventually hit head-on. Plaintiff sued for negligence in not building the median and the State argued that the project had fallen prey to funding priorities and project revisions. The trial court found for Plaintiff, the appellate division affirmed, and the State appealed on the grounds of qualified immunity.
Whether a State can be held liable for injuries stemming from dangerous conditions in a highway that then State built, but did nothing to remedy.
Yes, a State can be held liable for injuries stemming from dangerous conditions in a highway that then State built, but did nothing to remedy.
In affirming the lower court's ruling, the Court found that even under qualified immunity, a government is liable when its study is clearly inadequate, or where remedial action has been unreasonable delayed. From this angle, the Court ruled that the State has failed to show that the five years since the Department of Transportation decided to build the median and Plaintiff’s accident was a reasonable period of time to formulate a safety plan.