On December 29, this space considered who might be held responsible for accidents at highway roadwork sites. There are a lot of issues involved in this. Here is a relevant scenario.

A Florida Roadblock Story

In October this year, an experienced company called Zep Construction was given a bridge repair contract financed by federal stimulus dollars. A previous accident in which their roadworkers had been involved had occurred in 2007. Zep had been repairing a bridge then, on Interstate 75, and had used a “rolling roadblock”.

That means police cruisers line up next to each other across the highway, with their lights flashing, to slow traffic to about 20 mph while equipment and/or workers are moved around in the work zone. On the night of October 1, traffic slowed to a stop on an overpass where the normal speed limit was 70 mph.

Two Killed and Ten Hurt

Most drivers avoided any crash by quickly braking but one car at the back of the line-up was hit by a big rig. It crushed the car, knocked several other aside, and jackknifed about 100 yards further along the road. Two people were killed and ten injured. It turned out that there had been no warning signs posted further back along the road that would have alerted the trucker.

The Florida highway patrol therefore did not charge the trucker. He was ticketed for careless driving and later his license was revoked. A big rig in the next lane had been able to stop in time to avoid hitting any cars, which suggested that the ticketed trucker had been speeding.

The Florida Transportation Department cited Zep for failing to follow state procedures and not having prior authorization for their roadblock. Zep’s owner replied that the state’s own inspection consultant had been onsite at the time and had made no objections. The insurance company for the trucker’s employer eventually paid a half million to each of the two victim’s families.

So who was most responsible for the deaths and injuries that night? The trucker, his employer, Zep, the Florida inspection consultant, Florida Transportation Department itself?

One danger in this whole discussion is the hidden assumption that roads could be made 100 percent safe so that nobody would ever be hurt in an accident and that it is the federal government’s job to accomplish this. While obviously an absurd assumption, it can creep in and it may make people forget that “life happens”. People drive negligently, regardless of laws, regulations, signage, lighting conditions, presence or absence of roadwork, and a million other factors. Auto accidents are a permanent fact of life.

If you were hurt in a truck accident, motorcycle accident, boating accident, slip and fall accident, or any of the myriad other accidents that happen on this planet, please contact our personal injury attorneys for a free consultation. You may have a valid legal claim, and if so, we will fight to obtain full and fair compensation for your injury and losses.

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