Workers move a vehicle after a rollover accident involving golfer Tiger Woods on Tuesday, February 23, 2021 in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. Woods suffered leg injuries in the one-car accident and was undergoing surgery, authorities and his manager said. (Getty Images / Mark J. Terrill)
Tiger Woods is on everyone’s minds because of the single-vehicle crash that he was involved in Rancho Palos Verdes, California — near Los Angeles — earlier this week. There are a lot of unknowns at this point. There’s a lot of speculation as to what might have happened.
I would like to talk about what a personal injury attorney may look at when considering a single-vehicle crash. This type of accident is less common; most automobile crashes involve two or three vehicles. Single-vehicle crashes typically raise questions as to whether there was something wrong with the vehicle itself, something wrong with the roadway, or a combination of the two.
In the case of Tiger Woods’ accident, the first responders said that the area in Los Angeles where the crash occurred is one that has many crashes. It’s a dangerous area. According to their description of the accident scene, it’s an area where a crash would not be unforeseen.
In a media briefing following the accident, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva explained the road’s conditions as follows: “Because it is downhill — it slopes and it curves — that area has a high frequency of accidents.” Further, he described accidents in that area as “not uncommon.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and others assess Tiger Woods’ recent rollover accident in Rancho Palos Verdes.
This is a huge problem for the governmental entity that designed the road, whether it’s the City of Rancho Palos Verdes, Los Angeles County, or even the State of California. If the city designed a roadway that is hazardous for drivers, the city could bear some responsibility for crashes that occur on that roadway.
Of course, the argument can be made that the driver of the vehicle should understand or appreciate the dangers of that roadway and, therefore, slow down or drive with more caution. But this argument makes sense only if the driver has driven that roadway before, and has familiarity with that roadway and its dangers.
The problem is, if you’re not usually on that roadway or area of road — if you’re not comfortable with that area of road — and if you don’t understand the sharp turns or potential downhills and bends that may be present in Rancho Palos Verdes, you could argue that there’s a design defect with the roadway.
Roadway Design Defect Cases
Roadway design defect cases are extremely complicated and have a very, very high burden. In other words, the burden is what you, the plaintiff, would have to prove against the governmental entity that designed the road. You would have to show that there was knowingly a design flaw in this roadway, or that the city, county, or state was put on notice — or notified — about the dangers of this roadway.
It’s possible that multiple accidents occurring over a short period of time, or many accidents over a longer period of time, would give the city, county, or state notice that there’s something wrong with the road. A simple warning sign that says “slow down” may not be sufficient. The frequency of accidents should lead officials to consider a redesign of the road, or investigate how to provide a roadway that’s safer for the people who are driving it.
Jonathan Negretti’s perspective on the Tiger Woods single-vehicle accident is part of his Legal Beagle Podcast, which is available on Negretti & Associates’ YouTube channel and on Anchor.
The appropriate way to inform a governmental entity about a dangerous roadway is by filing a notice of claim. This must be filed within a certain period of time following an accident. In California, a notice of claim must be filed 180 days from the crash itself.
Tiger Woods suffered his rollover crash on February 23, 2021. He therefore has until August 22, 2021 to notify the city that he has an intent to bring a claim against the city or county for a dangerous condition: the design of this particular stretch of road.
In turn, the city would have the opportunity to evaluate the claim and then determine whether it is interested in resolving the claim with Tiger. If the city is not interested, then Tiger has an accelerated deadline — a statute of limitations that dictates how long you have to file a lawsuit or you lose the right to your claim. In more common language, it’s a deadline to file a lawsuit. If you miss the deadline, you can’t file a lawsuit. Tiger would have one year from the date of his crash to file that lawsuit. That’s assuming there’s enough evidence to support his claim.
Evidence Collection in a Roadway Design Defect Case
Where would Tiger find the evidence to support his claim? Well, he would have a law firm, like ours, work with an investigative team — engineers and roadway design experts — to look at the roadway. Together, the team would explore the following:
- Whether the governmental entity that has jurisdiction over this roadway — city, county, or state — failed to mitigate these dangers.
- Whether the city, county, or state failed to provide safeguards against these dangers.
- The area’s prior crash history. This is a little bit more difficult to acquire, because not all accidents are public record. But you can find most of them, if there are police reports and things of that nature.
It would take time to investigate all of these factors and determine whether there’s a claim against the governmental entity. That’s an important determination that needs to be made pretty early in an investigation. You face an accelerated deadline to both let the governmental entity know about your intent to bring a claim and then you have that accelerated deadline to file your lawsuit, because normally you get two years. In California you get the years to file a lawsuit or you lose the right to do so.
A Potential Product Defect Case
Another consideration that a personal injury attorney might look at is what’s going on with the vehicle itself. Tiger was driving a Genesis GV80. This was a courtesy vehicle provided by the sponsor of the golf tournament that had just occurred in Los Angeles. Tournaments traditionally have vehicle sponsors, which provide vehicles to the golfers. In this case, Genesis was the title sponsor of the event. If you’ve seen the images of the accident, you can tell the vehicle was badly damaged. The whole front-end looks crushed. There is significant damage to the vehicle itself. Does that mean there is anything wrong with the vehicle? Maybe. You don’t know until you start to look, until you start to investigate.
At Negretti & Associates, we handled a single-vehicle crash case in which our client had a medical episode, ran off the road, hit a tree, and her airbags failed to deploy. That shouldn’t happen when you hit a tree at 45 miles per hour. Your airbags should trigger and should deploy. So, we had to start investigating and asking questions. We got experts involved, and we started to tear into that vehicle, look at the mechanics of that vehicle, the data the vehicle can provide, and tried to figure out what happened in that particular situation.
Tiger Woods would have the same potential claim here if there were something wrong with his vehicle. At this point, we just don’t know what exactly happened. I think I heard a news report that there are no skid marks on the roadway at the point where he veered off it. That’s suspicious. Typically, our reaction, as drivers, is to hit our brakes if there’s some sort of issue — whether it’s something that runs in front of you, or you were texting and all of a sudden you realize the vehicle’s going off the road. Either way, you still apply the brakes. In this case, there’s nothing like that. Did the brakes fail? We don’t know yet. Again, there’s a lot of speculation as to whether there was intoxication or other contributing factors — all of which could determine whether Tiger Woods has a claim.
What’s especially important is timing. These investigations have to happen quickly. As a potential plaintiff in a single-vehicle crash, you should not wait for the authorities to do their investigation before you begin yours. Sometimes, authorities will take an awfully long time to do their investigations. They may have to send things to labs. Simply coordinating evidence from different responders into a report can take a long time. They’re available to you once they are produced. Regardless, you don’t want to for it to arrive. You want to have your own investigative team looking at the accident as soon as possible.
If there’s suspicion that something may be wrong, you’ll want to call a personal injury attorney and explain what you think happened: “This is what I’m concerned about. Do you think we have a potential case here?” That’s what happened in the aforementioned airbag case that we had. The wife was incapacitated, because she was the driver. The husband wasn’t in the vehicle at the time, but he’s the one who called me and said, “This is all I know. My wife had a medical episode. She hit a tree, and the airbags didn’t go off. I’m just wondering what happened.” So, our firm got involved and said let’s figure out what happened.
Roadway Design Is an Important Factor in Tiger Woods’ Accident Case
To circle back to Tiger Woods’ case, it concerns me to hear officers give interviews to the media and say that the roadway is unsafe. It’s troubling for the governmental entity in which they actually work. In this case, it’s the county. It’s troubling because it sounds like the authorities know that this is a dangerous stretch of roadway and maybe there were not enough safeguards in place to eliminate these types of accidents.
There remains much more to learn in this case. I’m sure the media will keep us updated and informed on what is going on, not only with Tiger’s recovery, but the potential factors that created this crash event.
Until we learn more, I wanted to jump in right away to explain how we might evaluate this case — without knowing anything more than what we all know at this point. We wish Tiger Woods a speedy recovery. We hope that this case isn’t more complicated than perhaps some sort of mishap.
In conclusion, if you find yourself in a single-vehicle accident, don’t assume that it’s just your fault and that there aren’t other factors at play. There could be reasons that you have a viable claim to pursue. Call us at (602) 531-3911 in Arizona, (619) 777-3370 in California, or (720) 636-3444 in Colorado. You can also contact us online or send us a text.