Mr. DeMarco sued the DOT, alleging that it failed to provide adequate cross-slope and proper super-elevation to allow rainwater to drain from the road’s surface. In support of those allegations, the plaintiff submitted affidavits from two experts, who both opined that roadway design was unsafe for driving conditions. DOT filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that (1) the roadway was not negligently designed or maintained, and (2) there was no evidence that standing water was the proximate cause of the incident.
The Court of Appeals did not reach a decision on the first issue. Instead, it focused on the DOT’s contention that there was no evidence of causation. Photographs taken at the scene of the accident did not show standing water on the roadway. The plaintiff was unable to contradict the photographic evidence. Mr. DeMarco argued, instead, that the fact the driver hydroplaned during a heavy rain was enough to create an issue of fact on causation for the jury. The court held that this was insufficient circumstantial evidence to rebut the DOT’s direct evidence that there was no standing water at the scene. Plaintiff’s experts’ testimony was also insufficient to avoid summary judgment, as the experts had to admit they had no knowledge of the amount of water on the road at the time of the accident. Therefore, they could not say with certainty that the driver hydroplaned because of standing water caused by the road’s design.
This case will be helpful in lawsuits where plaintiffs attempt to prove liability against the DOT and road construction contractors through the use of circumstantial evidence. If the DOT or contractor can point to direct evidence, such as photographs or eyewitnesses testimony, which contradicts the plaintiff’s theory of causation, the defendant should be successful at summary judgment.
Please let us know if we can answer any questions or if you would like a copy of the opinion.
David Sawyer and Michael Rust