When an Outdated Design Finally Needs to be Put to Bed:
The Government’s “State of the Art” Defense in Road Design Cases
Suits against the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission (MHTC) or local governments in charge of road design and maintenance are relatively uncommon. MHTC is in charge of the construction and maintenance of the highway system and all work incidental to that system.2
The State Highway Commission is likewise a political subdivision of the state with jurisdiction over the “state-wide connected system” of highways. It is plain beyond question, by the terms of the Constitution, that he State Highway Commission has the dominant, primary and superior dominion over highways: “It shall have authority over and power to locate, relocate, design and maintain all state highways; and authority to construct and reconstruct state highways, subject to limitations and conditions imposed by law as to the manner of exercising such authority.”3
MHTC and its employees have a duty to properly design, construct, and maintain highways.4 When a driver or passenger is injured due to the failure of MHTC to properly design or construct a highway, then the driver or passenger’s first obstacle will be to overcome sovereign immunity.
2Martin v. Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission, 981 S.W.2d 577, 580 (Mo. App. W.D. 1998)
3 Public Water Supply Dist. No. 2 of Jackson County v. State Highway Commission, 244 S.W.2d 4 (Mo. 1951) (citing Mo. Const. art 4 sec. 29).
4 Martin, 981 S.W.2d at 582.
II. Sovereign Immunity in Missouri
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