These days everyone is touched by liability concerns. We all pay extra for every product we buy to cover liability costs. Your Road Commission is not exempt from our legal system. Millions of potential road dollars are instead spent each year on defense of cases or awards of others. The Otsego County Road Commission has saved a lot of money by joining other Road Commissions in a pool and become self-insured. I am not trained in law and will not go into much detail trying to explain a complicated system but would like to share what I know about liability and the Road Commission.
Years ago governmental agencies were exempt from being sued. Then it was realized that governmental agencies make mistakes too and they should be held accountable for these errors. All of a sudden we were in the soup too. Then some laws came along in Michigan involving joint and several liability, contribution and comparative negligence. These laws say that when someone suffers a loss or injury and other negligent parties are found liable each negligent party pays according to a percent of liability determined by the courts. It sounds like the right way to go; however, in practice it is not so good. Example: A drunk driver runs off a curve and kills a passenger. The passenger's family sues the driver and the Road Commission because the curve was not marked properly. The jury awards one million to the deceased's family and determines the driver is 95% at fault and the Road Commission is 5% at fault. The driver only has $40,000 in liability insurance and so the Road Commission is forced to pay $960,000 because we have a million in coverage. The State or county was pulled into every lawsuit imaginable because of their "deep pockets". Who suffers? The public, because this is money that could have been used to upgrade roads. The legislature has tried to limit this overexposure and has helped some in recent years.
Property damage is another area of concern. If you apply for a permit to put some structure, like a sign, in the right-of-way you must assume the responsibility for any damage to that sign. If it is damaged by snow thrown off our plows, etc. you must pay for the repairs. If we damage something off the right-of-way, like your garage door, we will pay to repair it. If a stone comes off our sander or is kicked up from the road and breaks your windshield, under the no fault laws of Michigan, each driver covers his own losses. If we cause some damage through neglect, then we will be liable. However, working in the roadway is a necessary part of our job and most minor vehicle damage is not done by neglect. Each problem has its own circumstances, so it is always best to come in and fill out an accident report form to send to our insurance people.