Driving poses undeniable risks. However, travelers may need to consider how unsafe a barrier curb may be in certain situations. When is the state liable for these conditions? A case from the St. John Baptist parish considered how the state department of development and transportation was at fault for construction risks that contributed to an accident.
One afternoon, James Harris drove along the Airline Highway in Louisiana with his wife and their two grandchildren. As Harris traveled southbound, another northbound driver, Marilyn (MB), began driving erratically. MB’s car eventually drifted into the opposite side of traffic after crossing over a barrier curb on the highway. Harris moved onto the right-hand shoulder of the road to avoid MB. Unfortunately, despite his efforts to prevent a collision, MB’s vehicle crashed into Harris’, and he injured his left leg, foot, and hip. Ultimately, Harris’ left leg was amputated eight inches below the knee, and MB died from the accident.
Harris sued the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) for failing to have a jersey curb that would have prevented MB’s car from drifting into the opposite side of traffic. In addition, he sued Progressive Security Insurance Company, MB, MB’s insurance provider. The trial court found the DOTD to be 90% at fault and Ms. MB to be 10% at fault for the accident, and the jury ultimately awarded Harris $5,000,000 in general damages and $1,000,000 for loss of enjoyment of life. On appeal, the DOTD argued that the trial court abused its discretion in finding the DOTD liable and in the number of damages awarded to Harris.