Bump and grind

A new speed table appeared a block from the new nuisance stop signs I wrote about. Predictably, there are new gouges in the pavement where cars and trucks bottom out.

Put me on the jury and I’d hold the town liable for every scraped vehicle.

I won’t get that chance. It costs more to try a case than you can recover for a broken car. In Massachusetts, suits over road conditions go to Superior Court. There is a large filing fee and you need to follow the rules of evidence, including hiring expert witnesses to prove what the right way to build a road is. The wait is long. The lawyers are expensive.

Apparently you can sue over bad roads in small claims court in Tennessee. Based on the one case reported, you can sue and lose because the magistrate doesn’t think bumps are actionable. That’s small claims for you. Maybe you can find a more sympathetic judge.

In some states small claims judges are elected. Maybe you can vote for a more sympathetic judge.

While Tennessee courts were disposing of a lawsuit over a speed bump, a Michigan resident was threatening to sue over lack of speed enforcement. Speeders annoy him, that’s the city’s fault, and he’ll see them in court.

I think it’s a bluff. The Michigan Tort Claims Act bars such lawsuits. Deciding how many police officers to deploy is called a “discretionary function.” You can’t sue over poor exercise of discretion. And it would be illegal to give officers a ticket quota.

That’s not quite the end.

Some lawyers say having other people ticketed is a basic human right, thus exempt from the Tort Claims Act.

In America that’s a bluff. When the defendant calls, the case is a loser. Homeowners in Grafton, Massachusetts sued over a speed limit increase on the lake next to their house, and lost. (Chambers v. Glen Echo Improvement Association, Inc., Mass. Superior Court 2006.)

But there’s a reason lawyers lie. Sometimes the other side will give in rather than argue. MassHighway lowered the speed limit along my commute through Acton after a nonsensical lawyer letter.

Outside of America it may not even be a bluff.

If our tachophobic resident of St. Clair lived in India he would have a case. Judicial activism is enshrined in the constitution there. A judge can read the newspapers, be outraged over a story, and issue a writ. Judges can set speed limits and order enforcement.

Imagine if an American judge driving to work said to himself, “this 35 mph is stupid and I’m going to abolish it.”

His bean-counting superiors would have his job, that’s what. It happened in Upstate New York in 2005, when elected judges tried to to the right thing. The limit was stupid, illegal, and the judicial system wouldn’t have it any other way.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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