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Cyclist injured on detour sues road construction company for negligence.. Durrans v. Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Inc., 128 A.D.3d 1136 (N.Y. App. Div. 2015)


Durrans v. Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Inc., 128 A.D.3d 1136 (N.Y. App. Div. 2015) is a New York bicycle accident case involving a plaintiff who alleged she was seriously injured due to construction detours and equipment. Road construction often poses significant risks for bicyclists. Construction zones typically involve altered traffic patterns and temporary surfaces that can be hazardous. Uneven road surfaces, gravel, or debris can cause cyclists to lose control. Additionally, signage or barriers may be insufficient or improperly placed, confusing cyclists and funneling them into dangerous paths, like closer to traffic or over unsafe surfaces. These conditions significantly increase the risk of accidents. Proper management of these areas is crucial, including clear signage, maintaining clean and even paths, and considering the specific needs of bicyclists to prevent injuries.

Background Facts
The plaintiff was cycling through Stony Point, Rockland County, when she was forced to take a detour on Lowland Hill Road due to a bridge closure. The detour was part of a bridge reconstruction project managed by Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Inc., under contract with the Department of Transportation. Along the detour, orange barrels placed by the construction company narrowed the roadway, funneling traffic toward the center where a recessed manhole cover was inadequately marked. During her detour, the plaintiff’s bicycle hit this manhole cover, causing her to fall and sustain injuries. She then filed a negligence lawsuit against the construction company, alleging improper maintenance of the detour route and specifically the hazard posed by the manhole cover and the misplacement of the barrels.

Whether Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Inc. had a duty to maintain the detour road and whether their actions or lack thereof contributed to the unsafe conditions that led to the plaintiff’s accident.

The jury concluded that the construction company was negligent in how they placed warning barrels on the road, which funneled traffic towards the center where the manhole cover was located. However, they determined that this negligence did not substantially contribute to the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff moved to set aside the verdict, asserting a disconnect between the finding of negligence and the rejection of proximate cause.

The Supreme Court, upon review, held that there were factual issues about whether the placement of the barrels increased the road’s danger. It affirmed the jury’s decision that the negligence in placing the barrels did not significantly cause the accident. The reasoning was that, although the barrels might have affected road safety, the plaintiff’s actions or other intervening factors were not deemed sufficiently extraordinary or unforeseeable to break the causal chain between the defendant’s negligence and the accident.

In the case of the plaintiff’s bicycle accident, there might have been a more fitting defendant than the construction company managing the detour. The city, town, or other government entity responsible for the maintenance of the road could arguably be held liable, especially regarding the oversight of the manhole cover’s condition. Typically, such entities hold the primary duty to ensure public roads are safe and free from hazards like recessed manhole covers that pose a significant risk to bicyclists. The plaintiff’s legal strategy focusing on the construction company’s detour setup and barrel placement might have overshadowed the fundamental issue of road maintenance, which traditionally falls under municipal responsibility. By redirecting the legal challenge towards the entity in charge of regular road maintenance, the plaintiff might have addressed the root cause of the hazardous condition, potentially strengthening her case by highlighting a direct negligence in the basic upkeep of the road that led to her injuries.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a bicycle accident, particularly where road work or detours might have contributed to the incident, it’s crucial to consult with a lawyer who specializes in such cases. An experienced New York bicycle accident lawyer can offer guidance on legal rights and options for recovery. For assistance, contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates to ensure your rights are fully protected and advocated in navigating through complex legal landscapes.

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