Defective Signage Creates Danger
Roadway Signage And Public Safety
It is easy to overlook the invaluable importance of governmental signs, as to protecting us from severe harm. We take roadway signs for granted, but they are our silent sentinels, as stars were for ancient travelers.
When municipalities or commercial enterprises neglect to install or maintain proper signage and traffic signals, major collisions take place. In our experience, the majority of legal claims involve signage on secondary routes and rural hillsides.
Signs must direct driving behavior quickly and without ambiguity. All types of vehicles share our roads, and in all types of weather conditions. Most motorists do not appreciate that even on a quick trip, we rely on signs constantly to guide us and others on the road. It is the public duty of our township authorities to prevent potential hazards by continually making roadway improvements.
Why the Driver Failed to See the Sign
The Ohio legal standard for sign visibility requires a sign’s obviousness at all times. Signs vandalized or defaced in any way must be immediately replaced to preserve public safety.
Many municipalities have been held liable for allowing signs to become obstructed by foliage. Weeds and tree growth offer no excuse to a claim of negligent maintenance of signage.
Defense Lawyers Often Argue “Contributory Negligence”
Many negligent signage claims involve defense arguments of contributory negligence on the part of the driver. Ohio is a state which embraces the concept of comparative negligence. It is the task of the jury to consider the weight of the evidence and apportion blame, accordingly, by percentage.
If there is rain, snow or ice, the driver is expected to nevertheless maintain proper control over their vehicle. The same is true for sun blindness or darkness. Actually, the duty of the motorist is even higher in periods of low visibility. This includes remaining at a standstill, if that would be reasonable.
The Most Important Sign of All
Without a doubt, the most important sign – and the one involved in the most litigation – is the STOP sign. It must reliably enforce complete and total behavioral change in the oncoming motorist, or tragedy will result. Traffic engineers and roadway safety experts testify, in various forums, about the emphatic message conveyed by those four letters.
Each stop sign must convey its warning with three crucial elements. The octagonal shape, the bright color and the ambiguous message must be adequate for perception in darkness and bad weather.
Municipality crews maintaining signs which are faded, bent missing, or turned at an angle, invite collisions. In Ohio, traffic department officials are held to the ‘reasonably safe condition’ standard. If there is a breach of that duty, then liability for damages can be proven.