The National Academies

NCHRP 20-06/Topic 24-02 [Final]

Potential Liability Associated with Unstable Slope Management Programs
[ NCHRP 20-06 (Legal Problems Arising out of Highway Programs) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $50,000
Research Agency: Conner Gwyn Schenck PLLC
Principal Investigator: Timothy R. Wyatt
Effective Date: 8/29/2018
Completion Date: 8/29/2019
Comments: Completed. Published as NCHRP LRD 82.



Approximately two-thirds of state departments of transportation (DOTs) and several federal land management agencies utilize some form of unstable slope inventory and condition rating system for their transportation networks. Several states and federal agencies already operate or are developing asset management-based unstable slope management programs (USMPs) that provide methodology for determining which slopes should receive maintenance, repair, rehabilitation, or replacement work. Such work is needed for mitigating, reducing, or eliminating risk from failure of rock or soil slopes; reducing costs associated with unstable slopes; and improving performance of the transportation network.


Rock falls and landslides pose serious risks to public safety. Legal actions have been brought against transportation agencies to resolve liability for unstable slope-related claims. Some of these cases are resolved in part based upon the principle of discretionary immunity. Each case is resolved as to its particular set of facts and interpretations of the applicable law on a claim-by- claim and state-by-state (or federal) basis.




The objective of this research is to produce a report that, at a minimum, addresses the following questions: 

 What law provides guidance to transportation agencies regarding potential liability for unstable slopes and slope management programs?


 Does the liability of state DOTs for unstable slope-related damage extend to some types of activities and not others?


 What is the basis for the liability of state DOTs for unstable slope-related damage and what defenses exist, including potential immunity, duty, and causation defenses?


 Does the presence or absence of state standards (statute, administrative codes, policy,  state DOT manuals or practice guides, etc.) affect the liability of state DOTs for unstable slope-related damage claims?


 Does the presence or absence of generally or universally accepted guidance affect the liability of state DOTs for unstable slope-related damage issues?


Status: Completed. Published as NCHRP Legal Research Digest 82 available here.

To create a link to this page, use this URL: http://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=4503