It is lucky that no one was hurt, but someone could easily die in such a collapse. Should that happen, is there anyone legally responsible?

The news coverage talks extensively about how “this should be patched up soon”, but somehow I don’t see allegations of who should be responsible — which is a little surprising.

  • in Italy, a highway collapsed in.. 2019 I believe. So yes, the danger is clearly there. In Italy, forensics showed that partially the construction company's use of sub par material, and partially the bad maintenance were causal for the collapse.
    – Trish
    Feb 2, 2021 at 21:31
  • "The" collapse? "Washed out" is the normal state of Highway 1 -- the Big Sur section alone (the area where this collapse took place) has seen 55 collapses or mud slides in 84 years of operation.
    – Mark
    Feb 3, 2021 at 0:57

1 Answer 1


On the face of it, this appears to be due to landslide triggered by a violent storm; in legal terms, an "Act of God" for which no one is responsible.

There are individuals/corperations/entities who could be partially responsible; however, it is important to note that Highway 1 is old. Its construction began in 1934. Roads don't last forever, especially seaside roads.

Potentially responsible people include:

  1. Road builders, if shoddy or substandard construction contributed to the collapse.
  2. Engineers, if road was of unsound design which contributed to the collapse (note that the seaside location was almost certainly a design requirement that was worked around).
  3. Road Maintainers (currently CalTrans, the state transportation department): If poor or inadequate maintenance lead to the collapse.

However, there is at the current moment no evidence that suggest any of the above failed in their duties.

  • 2
    Of course, to the extent that any of 1-3 were carried out by the State of California, they have sovereign immunity and can only be sued to the extent that their laws permit it. If they were done by contractors, the contractors could be liable, but it's also possible that their contracts contain indemnification or limitations on such claims. Feb 2, 2021 at 22:03
  • 1
    Many states expressly waive sovereign immunity for certain negligence lawsuits related to road conditions, although there is a fair amount of variation and I haven't reviewed the governmental immunity statute in Colorado.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 2, 2021 at 23:53
  • Thank you for the answer. I understand if the damaging forces (e.g. a hurricane) is too large, then the road builder (and maintainer) cannot be reasonably held accountable. However, if that is not the case, intuitively, one would think that someone should be liable...
    – J Li
    Feb 3, 2021 at 1:42
  • 1
    @JLi people are only liable for things they do (or things they should have done and didn’t do properly). Sometimes bad things happen that are nobody’s fault.
    – Dale M
    Feb 3, 2021 at 2:51
  • @DaleM Of course. If the collapse was due to something like a hurricane, I can see that, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here?
    – J Li
    Feb 3, 2021 at 7:57

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