Governmental Entities: A Viable Defense for Roadway-Related Injuries

There can be complex issues arising from governmental entities and roadway related injuries. In Arizona, a governmental entity, such as a city or municipality, has a duty to keep its roadways reasonably safe for travel.[1] The case law regarding the scope of that duty is diverse, as there are a number of factual circumstances that may fall within that broad obligation (i.e., roadway design, roadway construction, roadway maintenance, etc. – each having various implications requiring a case-by-case analysis that is beyond the scope of this article).

Nevertheless, a governmental entity may be relieved from liability for roadway-related injuries pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-820.03, titled “Affirmative defense”.[2] Section 12-820.03 is part of the statutory scheme governing the scope of governmental immunity known as the Actions Against Public Entities or Public Employees Act (the “Act”). 1984 Ariz. Sess. Laws, ch. 285 (2d Reg. Sess.) (codified at A.R.S. §§ 12-820 et seq.).

The proponent asserting a § 12-820.03 defense has the burden of establishing compliance with all aspects of the statutory defense. If proven, the defense will bar recovery against governmental entities.[3] To successfully invoke the defense, the governmental entity must prove that:

  1. The injury arose out of a plan or design for the construction, maintenance, or improvement of a roadway or roadway feature;
  2. The plan or design conformed to engineering or design standards generally accepted when the plan was prepared; and
  3. If any unreasonably dangerous hazards exist, a reasonably adequate warning was given that would have allowed the public to take suitable precautions.[4]

It’s important to note that the governmental entity must prove all of the above statutory elements for the defense to apply.[5] The third element, which is commonly referred to as the “warning proviso,” can be established by showing either (i) the absence of an unreasonably dangerous hazard, or (ii) that the governmental entity provided adequate warnings of the dangerous condition at issue.

[1] Coburn v. City of Tucson, 143 Ariz. 50, 52 (1984); Bach v. State, 152 Ariz. 145, 147 (1986).

[2] A.R.S. § 12-820.03, Affirmative defense. “Neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury arising out of a plan or design for construction or maintenance of or improvement to highways, roads, streets, bridges, or rights-of-way if the plan or design is prepared in conformance with generally accepted engineering or design standards in effect at the time of the preparation of the plan or design, provided, however, that reasonably adequate warning shall be given as to any unreasonably dangerous hazards which would allow the public to take suitable precautions.”

[3] Glazer v. State, 237 Ariz. 160, 163-164 (S. Ct. 2015).

[4] Id.

[5] See e.g.Glazer v. Statesupra, at 167-168.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Governmental Entities and Roadway Related Injuries, or any other litigation matters, please feel free to contact Udall Shumway PLC at 480.461.5300 or log on to,  or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.