Before the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives from every New England state attended a Transportation Infrastructure Durability Center Conference to get ideas for solving their crumbling infrastructure problem. Decades of underinvestment in New England’s infrastructure have left communities with crumbling bridges, dangerous potholes, and other serious problems.

With the pandemic not quite in our rearview mirror, budget cuts are now affecting the already compromised infrastructure further – and important conferences and discussions on the topic have been either canceled or moved online.

What impact is New England’s crumbling infrastructure having on the safety of the community? We reached out to two Best Lawyers recognized attorneys to discuss the implications they are seeing in their practice areas.

Ellsworth T. Rundlett III

Childs, Rundlett & Altshuler, LLC
Recognized for Personal Injury Litigation - Plaintiffs since 2014

What kinds of accidents or safety issues are you seeing because of crumbling infrastructure in communities near you?

With the recent pandemic, the budgets of our state and municipalities have been stretched to the limits; so, one of the first places to reduce spending is on our infrastructure, including the roads in this state. There are several reasons why auto collisions and premises injuries increase in winter, but the primary culprit is ice. If the roads cannot be sanded or salted in time after a snowstorm occurs, a situation called “black ice” occurs. I have handled many auto collisions resulting from black ice, which you cannot see or detect - especially if the temperature is hovering around freezing. Cars crash in collisions that are often catastrophic. In blizzards, multi-car pileups have occurred in our state, such as the very recent tragedy in one of our southern states with over 100 cars. Potholes also occur in mid-winter and early spring, which can be so deep that major damage and collisions can occur. 

In your experience as an attorney, what other recommendations would you give residents to avoid accidents where poor infrastructure plays a role?

Drivers in New England must remember that dangerous roads exist in every state, winter conditions require reducing speed by a huge percentage, snow tires are necessary, no consumption whatsoever of intoxicating substances, and the use of a cell phone under any circumstance is illegal and grossly negligent. Any lawyer who represents injured parties in auto collisions looks for those transgressions first, and the defense that the incident was just a cause of nature always looms at a possibility.

The last important thing to remember is that our youth, being cooped up all winter, tend to speed, drive distracted, and take chances. So, the final important point is to impress upon young drivers the importance of auto safety. Law firms who advertise should spend some of their money on this type of warning.  

Annette Gonthier-Kiely, Esq.

Annette Gonthier-Kiely & Associates, P.C.
Recognized for Personal Injury Litigation - Plaintiffs and Medical Malpractice Law - Plaintiffs since 2015

What kinds of legal challenges are residents facing when crumbling infrastructure plays a role in a serious incident they have been involved in?

In Massachusetts, there are specific statutes that govern injuries or property damage due to a defect in a way in a town or city, (M.G.L. c. 84 sec. 15) and due to a defect or safety hazard caused by the negligence of the state through its agents, servants, and employees, (M.G.L. c. 258). There is also a statute of repose c. 260 sec. 2B which provides that no tort claim arising out of any deficiency or neglect in the design, planning, construction, or general administration of an improvement to real property shall be brought more than six years after either the opening of the improvement to use or substantial completion thereof.

If infrastructure renovation or repair is not undertaken to the extent needed, the incidence of accidents will likely increase and may result in more serious injuries which cannot be fully compensated due to the limitations of our statutes. The defect in the way statute limits recovery to no greater than $5,000 and requires notice within 30 days. C.258 has a $100,000 charitable immunity cap on damages against the State, its municipalities, counties, and districts with a presentment of the claim within two years of its occurrence. In addition to the limited recovery afforded, the procedural requirements which must be met offer further obstacles to recovery. Death and injuries may go uncompensated when the statute of repose runs out due to the failure to fund and correct highway and other real estate design and construction defects.

What do you think the effects will be in your area if the accidents and safety issues you are seeing because of infrastructure problems are not addressed?

In New England, we are prone to potholes, which are on the rise in part because of quick fixes in chronically afflicted areas that are in dire need of more long-term solutions, such as road replacement. At intersections, overgrown trees and shrubs diminish line of sight and contribute to accidents. Failure to maintain electric wires properly and regularly can be fraught with danger when unintended or unavoidable contact with electric poles occurs.

We have learned of water quality problems in some parts of the country rendering people sick due to the lack of preemptive oversight, testing, and maintenance. No doubt these issues will occur elsewhere without adequate funding and oversight.