The National Academies

NCHRP 20-06/Topic 19-03 [Final]

Effect of MUTCD on Tort Liability of Government Transportation Agencies
[ NCHRP 20-06 (Legal Problems Arising out of Highway Programs) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $45,000
Research Agency: The Thomas Law Firm
Principal Investigator: Larry W. Thomas, Esq.
Effective Date: 1/1/2013
Completion Date: 4/30/2014

The most recent version of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) was adopted by USDOT by final rulemaking on December 16, 2009, to be effective January 15, 2010. The final rulemaking (74 F.R 66729) also required that, within two years of the effective date, states adopt the MUTCD as their legal state standard for traffic control devices. The MUTCD has been administered by the FHWA since 1971, and has been revised a number of times over the years, with the most recent previous edition being adopted in 2003. The 2009 revision made changes to some compliance dates, as well as language changes, that may impact on states possible tort liability. Research is needed to develop a Legal Digest Report informing practitioners about the current status of tort liability involving governmental transportation agencies arising from the application and development of theMUTCD. Research should encompass the basis for tort liability arising before and after adoption of the MUTCD. This would include issues relating to governmental immunity, such as mandatory versus permissive language, and the “planning/operational” test to determine governmental liability, which are considered and discussed in Legal Research Digest No. 38, “Risk Management for Transportation Programs Employing Written Guidelines as Design and Performance Standards.”

Issues that the research should address include: What is the effect of the MUTCD on the manner in which government tort liability has developed?; What effect did the MUTCD have on the analysis of duty, standard of care, immunity and other government defenses?; Research should take into account that while the MUTCD and related tort law were developing, federal, state and other governments adopted tort claims acts and laws that waived sovereign immunity; and  Research should also consider the impact of peculiar state laws. It is expected that the research plan and detailed outline will clearly describe all the tort liability issues associated with adoption of the MUTCD and how this research will be implemented. Since its inception, the MUTCD has significantly changed in breadth, scope and impact on governmental entities. Research should, therefore, address the potential impact of the 2009 edition of the MUTCD on government tort liability, and address the particular changes to language or deadlines that may affect such liability.

Status: The report has been published as NCHRP Legal Research Digest No. 63, Eminent Domain and Fair Market Value in a Depressed Real Estate Market.


NCHRP Legal Research Digest No. 63, Eminent Domain and Fair Market Value in a Depressed Real Estate Market, is available for download from the TRB Website.


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