Recently, the City of Los Angeles agreed to pay $6.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who suffered severe injuries after his bicycle hit a pothole. The injured bicyclist suffered broken bones and a severe brain injury. The bicyclist brought suit against the city because it failed to reasonably maintain its streets, including repairing potholes.
While the amount of the California settlement is significant, Arizona State and City governments have a similar duty to reasonably maintain the streets. This was established in a case called Beach v. City of Phoenix, 136 Ariz. 601 (1983), where the Arizona Supreme Court stated, “The long standing rule in this state is that ‘the standard of care imposed upon a municipality is that of an ordinary prudent man. It is bound to keep its streets reasonably safe for travel.'” In that case, a woman sued the City of Phoenix when a she was injured when she was forced to step off a sidewalk into the street because of an overgrown tree. The Court allowed a woman's case to proceed as a reasonable jury could conclude the city should have foreseen the tree was too large and would cause pedestrians to dangerously walk into the street.
A similar decision was reached in Galati v. Lake Havasu City, 186 Ariz. 131 (App. 1996). There, a motorist lost control of his car after hitting a dip in the road. The Court of Appeals held that the city was not entitled to protection from the claim, as it was not exercising legislative function by failing to allocate funds to fix the road.
The bottom line is that as our streets deteriorate from lack of maintenance, injuries from bicycle, motorcycle and car crashes will increase. Cities that fail to reasonably maintain roads to prevent these types of foreseeable injuries can be held responsible for the harm caused by dangerous streets.