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Potential Liability Associated With Unstable Slope Management Programs

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Document pages: 157 pages

Abstract: Slope failures such as landslides and rockfalls pose risks for highway owners such as State Departments of Transportation (herein, “State DOTs”), such as personal injury or property damage suffered by travelers on the highway who impact the falling or sliding debris. Personal injury or property damage resulting from highway slope failures often result in tort claims made against State DOTs. Although State DOTs have a duty to maintain highways in a reasonably safe condition for travel, it is generally understood that it is not feasible to completely eliminate the risk of highway slope failure. In an effort to In an effort to manage the cost and risk (legal and otherwise) of highway slope failures, many State DOTs have adopted unstable slope management programs, such as the Rockfall Hazard Rating System developed with grant funding from the Federal Highway Administration (“FHWA”). This paper examines how unstable slope management programs influence the outcome of tort claims against State DOTs in cases involving highway slope failures, including how they influence the court’s analysis of immunity and negligence. It is seen that, while unstable slope management programs can help State DOTs avoid liability for decisions to defer capital-intensive slope remediation projects, they generally do not allow State DOTs to avoid liability for failure to perform routine maintenance of highway slopes.

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