The majority of car accidents in Fort Lauderdale are the result of driver error, often distraction, impairment or speeding. However, poor road conditions can be a causal or contributing factor. It’s imperative for injury attorneys examining your claim for damages to carefully analyze whether this may be grounds to file claims against additional parties, such as the local municipality, the state or construction company.
In most of these cases, we must show the defendant had a duty of care to maintain the roadway, breached that duty with negligent maintenance, and/ or failed to adequately warn drivers of a potential danger.
Crashes in construction zones are a unique – and serious – problem. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that in 2015, there were nearly 97,000 crashes in work zones nationally – representing an almost 8 percent increase since 2015 and a 42 percent increase since 2013. Of course, crashes overall have gone up as well, but the increase in these crashes is over-represented. More than a quarter of them involved injury to at least one person and 642 of them resulted in at least one death. More than 40 percent of those deadly crashes were rear-end collisions.
Some of the unique dangers in construction zones include:
- Unpredictable road patterns;
- Misplaced signs;
- Motorist unfamiliarity with road patterns;
- Steep drop-offs;
- Loose debris;
- Last-minute lane change attempts;
- Machinery blocking pathways;
- Drivers speeding or winding through reduced-speed lanes;
- Uneven roadway;
- Presence of large construction vehicles/ sometimes pull out unexpectedly into traffic;
- Poor lighting.
Recently in Delaware, the state supreme court there tackled a case of a fatal construction zone crash and was asked to decide whether a lower court rightly dismissed plaintiff’s wrongful death lawsuit against the construction company responsible for maintenance of the zone wherein the single-vehicle accident occurred.
According to court records from the Delaware Supreme Court, a driver and her passenger – both young women – entered a stretch of road that was undergoing construction, though there was no active construction going on at the time, as it was nighttime on a weekend. Driver encountered a road condition known as “raveling.” This is when there is a progressive disintegration of the top layer of pavement, resulting in dislodged particles. It’s extremely hazardous as it can cause a vehicle to hydroplane, which is exactly what occurred in this situation.
The road construction process here involved something called cold in-place recycling, which involves removing about five inches from the top of the asphalt, mixing the removed layer with a binding agent and then re-applying it as a base layer. Then a final coat is laid on top. The recycled coat has to cure for about a week, during which time the road can be open to traffic, but the surface is still unfinished and rough.
Driver lost control and barreled into a cluster of trees. The impact killed the passenger and seriously injured the driver.
Passenger’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the general contractor of the construction company (among others), arguing it negligently failed to place adequate temporary traffic control signs or devices warning the public of road conditions. Contractor sought summary judgment, arguing it had no duty to post temporary traffic control signs or devices warning about the road condition over the weekend, regardless of whether it anticipated raveling would occur due to a forecast storm that weekend. Trial court agreed and also found certain repair work by the state DOT that weekend broke the causal link between any negligence by the contractor and the accident.
The Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding that analysis wasn’t legally correct.
The court noted there was evidence of this construction company having prior experience with raveling while using this same road construction process on paving jobs, so it was aware that such a hazard existed, especially when the road is subjected to heavy traffic, excessive rain and limited sunlight. This was a heavily-traveled road – especially on weekends – and it also had heavy tree cover and there was a predicted significant rainfall that weekend. Although there was no evidence of raveling at 4 p.m. the Friday prior to the crash when worked stopped for the weekend, but they did not put up a sign warning of the possibility. Driver had testified that if she had seen a sign warning of loose gravel or rough road, she would have slowed until she could have gauged the road’s condition.
The court ruled summary judgment was inappropriate because questions of material fact remained about whether the company breached its duty of care as a prudent and reasonable contractor. The case is now back on case for trial.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Pavik v. George & Lynch, Inc., March 23, 2018, Delaware Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Negligent Auto Repair Can Be Grounds for Car Accident Lawsuit, March 20, 2018, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Attorney Blog