Early one morning in November 2014, a popular 17-year-old senior left her South Carolina home – and never returned. Her family didn’t know where she was headed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday, and they don’t know why she didn’t follow the highway’s sharp curve. What they can say with some certainty is that had a guardrail been positioned around that curve, she may not have careened off the road, down an embankment and head-on into a cluster of trees.
She died on the scene of blunt force trauma to her head. Her family has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state’s Department of Transportation, alleging the agency was negligent in failing to erect a guardrail that could have saved her life.
Authorities with the state declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, which accuses officials with the agency of knowing a guardrail was needed, but failing to act. Coincidentally, the family’s lawsuit was filed the same week as National Teen Driver Safety Week.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports car accidents are the No. 1 cause of death for those between the ages of 15 to 19. In 2014 alone, there were nearly 2,700 teenagers in that cohort who were killed while driving. Another 123,000 teens suffered serious – sometimes debilitating – injuries.
The federal agency’s latest campaign urges parents to initiate the “5 to Drive” campaign, laying down five key ground rules for teens if they want to retain their driving privileges:
- No cell phones.
- No extra passengers.
- No speeding.
- No alcohol.
- Buckle up.
In the case of the teen who died in South Carolina, authorities say she was wearing a seat belt and was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, she is believed to have been traveling 60 mph in a 35-mph zone. The momentum when she hit the slope where the pavement juts off sharply may have sent her vehicle airborne. Although it seemed she would have her life ahead of her, she died just two months shy of her 18th birthday.
The fact that she was speeding does not necessarily mean the transportation agency is off-the-hook. Courts have previously held that speeding is a reasonably foreseeable occurrence on a roadway, and traffic engineers must design roads that will safely accommodate all road users – including speeders – to a reasonable degree.
A study commissioned a few years ago by the Transportation Construction Coalition concluded poor highway conditions and designs are a factor in more than half of all deadly crashes in the U.S., contributing to more fatalities than speeding, failure to wear seat belts or even drunk driving. That conclusion was based on 18 months of research, which found this issue to be a factor in some 22,000 motor vehicle deaths every year, costing us collectively $218 billion. In comparison, crashes involving alcohol cost us $130 billion annually.
Preventative remedies include:
- Adding shoulders;
- Widening shoulders;
- Replacing bridges that are too narrow, or widening them;
- Having crooked roads re-aligned;
- Using pavement markets that are more brightly-colored;
- Installing easier-to-read signs;
- Adding rumble strips;
- Installing guardrails as necessary.
Failure to do any of this won’t automatically establish liability on the part of the government agency, though. Plaintiffs will still need to show the agency had actual or constructive knowledge of the defects, which proximately caused the collision and plaintiff’s injuries, which were reasonably foreseeable. These cases should be trusted only to an experienced car accident attorney.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Grieving mother sues SCDOT, Oct. 17, 2016, By Michael Burns, Greenville Online
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Deadly Crash Leads to Airbag Lawsuit for 4 Orphaned Sisters, Oct. 12, 2016, Orlando Accident Lawyer Blog