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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Open Records Requests are a Powerful Tool in Road Defect Cases

With infrastructure lagging behind our City’s growing bicycle population, many accidents are caused by poor road conditions and defects. In such cases, the Commonwealth's “Right to Know Law” is a powerful tool for victims.

Under Pennsylvania's “Right to Know Law” (or “Open Records Law”), Act 3 of 2008, 65 P.S. §§ 67.101, et seq., members of the public have the right to inspect/copy, with certain limitations, City records upon request. This includes records from the Streets Department and Permits Office.

As stated in a previous post, the City can be sued for injuries caused by potholes or other defects in the street. 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 8542, 8255. Often times, the most difficult part of these cases is proving that the City had constructive or actual notice of the defect, as required by statute. See, e.g., Mason v. City of Allentown, 2013 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 443 (Pa. C.P. 2013).

Generally, constructive notice is proven by demonstrating that the defect existed for such a period of time that it could have been discovered and corrected through the exercise of reasonable care. Whereas, actual notice is proven by demonstrating that the City was aware of the defect prior to the accident. This is why open records are valuable.

Through a city-wide initiative, more people are calling in and reporting potholes and other defects. These complaints should be filed and recorded by the Streets Department. By making a records request, a victim can find out if the City had knowledge of the defect through a prior complaint.

It may also be worthwhile to request records from the Permits Office. These records may show that a business or other entity performed construction in the area prior to the date of accident. In other words, someone else may be liable for victim’s injuries.

While record requests are helpful, these are nevertheless difficult cases to prove. In addition, the injured party has to provide written notice of the accident to the City within a certain number of days of the occurrence in order to preserve his/her right to file a lawsuit.

If your injuries were caused by a pothole or defect in the street, you should contact an attorney at PHILLY BIKE LAWYER - all consultations are free, just call (267) 423-4464.

For more information on Philadelphia’s Open Records Policy, click here.

For a copy of a standard Right to Know Request Form, click here.

Standard Form, for PDF visit https://www.dced.state.pa.us/public/oor/Form-UniformRequest.pdf.

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