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A decision released in November by the Alabama Supreme Court permits a lawsuit to go forward where a county and its engineer had been sued due to the failure of a county to install a railing at the approach to a narrow bridge. Expert testimony indicated that occupants of a vehicle were injured due to this failure to comply with reasonable road construction standards which made such a railing almost a “necessity.” The vehicle left the traveled portion of the roadway in icy conditions. Had a railing been present, it would have deflected the vehicle back into the road, but instead, it went over the edge and dropped into a creek bed ten feet below. The county argued that the absence of specific statutory requirements for such a railing meant the case should be dismissed as a matter of law, but the court in Holt v. Lauderdale County, disagreed, ruling that a jury must hear the claims. Further, the court rejected the county’s argument that dismissal was required due to the bridge’s compliance with standards at the time it was built, since a county has a continuing duty to keep roadways safe.

Unfortunately, Alabama law still imposes a cap of $100,000 per person as to claims against municipalities, no matter how badly the person is injured. It would be reasonable for the legislature to re-examine this restrictive law, originally enacted during the 1970s.

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