Understanding Road Work Accidents
Welcome back to our ongoing blog series on negligence per se and Georgia’s rules of the road! Recently, we’ve been discussing speeding-related laws, including statute 40-6-186, which deals with racing on public streets. This week, we’ll talk about another specific speeding scenario: speeding in highway work zones.
Remember, the rules of the road are safety rules, which means that breaking any one of them is an inherently negligent act. According to the concept of negligence per se, if someone hurts someone else by breaking a traffic law, the law-breaker is automatically liable for the damages, with no need to argue about whether their behavior was reasonable or not.
So, let’s have a look at how this concept applies to statute 40-6-188 and legal conduct in work zones.
How Do I Recognize a Road Work Zone?
The appearance of highway work zones can vary depending on their purpose. Road work can involve maintaining the road itself, accessing underground utilities, tending to public landscaping, and virtually anything else that requires government employees or contractors to work in close proximity to traffic. Whether those workers are laying asphalt or trimming trees, statute 40-6-188 is designed to protect their safety.
(a) As used in this Code section, the term:
(1) “Highway work zone” means a segment of any highway, road, or street where the Department of Transportation, a county, a municipality, or any contractor for any of the foregoing is engaged in constructing, reconstructing, or maintaining the physical structure of the roadway or its shoulders or features adjacent to the roadway, including without limitation underground or overhead utilities or highway appurtenances, or any other type of work related thereto.
(2) “Work zone personnel” means employees of the Department of Transportation, a county, a municipality, or any contractor for any of the foregoing.
Any government body with authority over a certain stretch of road can set up a work zone on it, from the municipality level up to the federal Department of Transportation, and so can their independent contractors. This means there’s no single emblem you can expect to see on vehicles and barriers at every work site. However, all work zones are required to have signs marking where they start and end, so drivers are aware of the increased speeding fines within these zones.
(1) The Department of Transportation, any county, or any municipality may designate any segment of a highway, road, or street under its jurisdiction as a highway work zone.
(2) Whenever a highway work zone is designated pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection, there shall be erected or posted signage of adequate size at the beginning point of such highway work zone designating the zone and warning the traveling public that increased penalties for speeding violations are in effect for the highway work zone, and there shall be erected or posted at the end of such highway work zone adequate signage indicating the end of such zone and that increased penalties for speeding violations are no longer in effect.
In short, drivers should always be on the lookout for these signs, and if something looks like it might be a highway work zone, it’s a good idea to treat it like one.
What Are the Speed Regulations Within a Road Work Zone?
Drivers are required to move over, if possible, rather than drive directly next to a work zone. If traffic or other conditions prevent moving over, drivers must instead slow down, stay alert, and be ready to stop if necessary. There’s no standard speed that drivers are required to slow down to, but any authority that establishes a highway work zone may also institute a reduced speed limit within that zone.
(1) The Department of Transportation or the governing authority of any county or municipal corporation is authorized to establish a temporary reduction in the maximum speed limit through any highway work zone located on or adjacent to any street or highway under its respective jurisdiction. The commissioner of transportation or the local governing authority shall not be required to conduct any engineering and traffic investigation in order to establish a reduced speed limit in a highway work zone pursuant to this paragraph.
Whenever a work zone has a specific reduced speed limit, that zone must be marked with temporary speed limit signs at the beginning, the end, and every half mile in between. If the reduced speed limit is different from the regular speed limit by 10 mph or more, there must also be a sign at least 600 feet before the beginning of the work zone, warning drivers that they’ll need to slow down soon.
(2) Whenever reduced speed zones are established pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection, there shall be erected or posted signage of adequate size at the beginning point of such speed zone designating the zone and the speed limit to be observed therein, and there shall be erected or posted at the end of such speed zone adequate signage indicating the end of such speed zone, which signage shall also indicate such different speed limit as may then be observed. Signs indicating such reduced speed limit shall be spaced not further than one mile apart throughout the highway work zone. Where the speed limit established pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection is at least ten miles per hour less than the established speed limit on the street or highway, there shall be erected at least 600 feet in advance of the beginning of the speed zone a sign of adequate size which shall bear the legend “Reduced Speed Ahead.” Whenever any signage is required by this paragraph, the same shall be in addition to the signage requirements of paragraph (2) of subsection (b) of this Code section.
Whether a sign is posted or not, the safest move when you see yellow lights up ahead is to reduce your speed and be ready for the unexpected.
Do I Still Have to Obey Everyday Signs in Road Work Zones?
Temporary signs posted around highway work zones must follow all the normal rules for road signs, except those that would interfere with their portability. Any permanent signs that conflict with the temporary ones must also be covered or hidden in some way.
(1) Any signage required by this Code section shall conform to applicable provisions of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices; provided, however, that nothing in this Code section shall prohibit the use of movable or portable speed limit signs in highway work zones.
(2) Any existing regulatory signage conflicting with signage erected or posted pursuant to this Code section shall be removed, covered, folded, or turned so as not to be readable by oncoming motorists.
Statute 40-6-188 is intended to minimize confusion for motorists, while keeping workers safe. If a sign is visible around a road work zone, it should be because it serves a purpose, but when in doubt, drivers should prioritize temporary signs and those that promote more cautious driving.
Do I Have to Slow Down in Road Work Zones, Even When There Are No Workers?
Just because workers aren’t immediately visible doesn’t mean they’re not there. Besides, even if a work zone is truly empty, it can still contain hazards that make driving at an everyday speed unsafe.
Drivers are allowed to drive normally around inactive work zones, but only if there are no barriers, trenches, or work vehicles, in addition to no workers.
(1) In order for a person to be cited or convicted for exceeding a speed limit, reduced or otherwise, in any highway work zone as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, there must be present in the highway work zone at the time of the offense the signage required by this Code section and either:
(A) Work zone personnel; or
(B) Barriers, on-site work vehicles, or shoulder or pavement drop offs that constitute a hazard to the traveling public.
It’s often faster, as well as safer, to simply follow the temporary rules anyway, rather than try to figure out whether they’re necessary at the moment or not.
What Are the Consequences of Speeding in a Road Work Zone?
Breaking a speed limit within a highway work zone, whether temporary or permanent, is a misdemeanor punishable by a $100-$2,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
(2) A person convicted of exceeding the speed limit, reduced or otherwise, in any highway work zone designated pursuant to this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature and shall be punished by a fine of not less than $100.00 nor more than $2,000.00 or by imprisonment for a term not to exceed 12 months, or both.
That’s just the penalty for the speeding infraction itself. If a speeding driver ends up hurting a road worker or bystander, the consequences in civil court can be much more expensive. Failing to observe the safety regulations surrounding highway work zones is a clear example of negligence per se, meaning the speeding driver is financially responsible for the victim’s injuries and any other losses.
If a work zone was improperly marked or authorized, this rarely changes anything about the driver’s culpability in criminal court. In fact, statute 40-6-188 specifically notes that the Department of Transportation must notify local authorities before establishing a work zone, but if they don’t, their oversight can’t be used as a defense by speeding drivers.
(f) Whenever the Department of Transportation finds it necessary to designate a highway work zone within a county or municipality, the Department of Transportation shall be required to notify the county or municipality of the work activity; provided, however, that the failure of the Department of Transportation to give such notice shall not be a defense to any charge of violating the speed limit in any highway work zone.
In civil court, however, if the organization that instituted the work zone failed to follow established safety procedures, that organization might also share responsibility for any resulting damages.
What Damages Can You Recover If You’re Struck by a Speeding Driver in a Work Zone?
As noted above, speeding in a work zone counts as negligence per se, which makes pursuing compensation easier than in many other types of cases. However, the process is still fairly complex and involves putting a price on the two different types of damage an accident can cause: special damages and general damages.
Special Damages Can Be Boiled Down to a Concrete Sum
If you’re working in a highway work zone, or simply driving through one at a legal speed, and you’re struck by an impatient or inattentive driver, your first concern will usually be meeting your medical needs. You might end up with permanently disabling injuries that will change the course of the rest of your life, or you might just find yourself struggling to pay for the one-time ambulance ride and emergency room visit you needed. Whatever the cost of your medical treatment, this is a quantifiable expense caused by the accident and should be covered by a fair special damages settlement. Other financial effects, like changes to your career, also qualify as special damages. When pursuing compensation for these kinds of losses, you’ll need detailed documentation of each expense, as well as proof that these expenses were the direct or proximate result of the speeding driver’s actions. To learn more about direct and proximate cause and how the Wetherington Law Firm goes about proving them, click here.
General Damages Cannot Be Expressed in Objective Numbers
Any non-financial effects the accident has on your life will be classified as general damages. For example, if your medical treatment was not only expensive but painful, or if the effect on your career damaged not just your income but also your sense of self, these physical and emotional hardships will not be accounted for in the calculations for your special damages settlement. Special damages settlements only pay your bills, while general damages settlements help compensate for everything else. Of course, there’s no perfect way of converting pain and emotional loss into numbers and decimal places, so it’s important to have an experienced lawyer to advise and advocate for you on this highly subjective subject.
What If I’ve Lost a Loved One to a Work Zone Accident?
Road work can be a tragically dangerous profession, often more so than it needs to be. If you’ve lost someone because of a driver’s disregard for the safety of workers on the road, we’ll be glad to discuss your options for justice. The rules for wrongful death suits are a bit different from those for personal injury, however, and we recommend familiarizing yourself with some of the basics here.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
After an accident in a work zone, you’ll likely find yourself facing either the organization in control of the work zone, the insurance company of the at-fault driver, or both. The situation can get complicated quickly, no matter how obvious your own innocence and injuries may be, and insurance companies in particular are experts at exploiting the slightest doubt or technicality to avoid paying out fair settlements. The professionals at the Wetherington Law Firm have plenty of experience protecting our clients from traps and trick questions designed to cheat them out of their compensation, and it would be our honor to guide you through this often stressful and confusing process to the positive outcome you’re counting on.
How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta
The Wetherington Law Firm works on a contingency basis only, which means the only payment we accept is a share of the settlements we win for our clients. We don’t take any form of payment up front or by the hour, and if we don’t win, we don’t ask you for a cent. Our job is to make sure you end up better off than you would be without us, not worse.
To get started discussing the details of your case with one of our qualified attorneys, give us a call any time at 404-888-4444, or contact us through the form on the right for a free consultation.
The Wetherington Law Firm Will Help You Fight for a Better World
We understand that many of our clients are looking for more than a way to pay their own bills. They’re looking for a deeper, more lasting solution to the problem that caused their injuries, a solution that protects others as well as themselves. If you believe there was more to your accident than one bad driver, we’ll be happy to help you use your case to spark real change. For example, if you work for a company that takes government construction contracts, and you feel your employer doesn’t take worker safety seriously enough, we’ll look into their safety policies and push for improved accountability and working conditions. To learn about the ways we’ve already helped others change the world with litigation, give us a call and ask!