Crashes in construction zones are an ongoing and serious problem – in Florida and beyond. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports in a single recent year, there were nearly 97,000 crashes in work zones – which represented an 8 percent increase over the previous year and a stunning 43 percent increase in the span of just two years. A crash occurs in a work zone every 5.4 minutes. For the roughly 70 work zone crashes that happen daily, more than 26 percent result in at least one injury.
In many cases, driver error is to blame. Drivers are distracted, impaired or speeding through construction zones with disregard for workers and warning signs. However, sometimes these car accidents can involve errors on the part of the construction companies and failure to give drivers clear warning of dangerous conditions.
This is what was alleged in a fatal car accident lawsuit recently before the Delaware Supreme Court. It involved allegations of an unsafe road condition known as “raveling.” As explained by Asphalt Magazine, this is a type of pavement distress identified as the wearing away of aggregate particles from the asphalt cement. It can be caused by use of a poor quality mixture, inadequate compaction or dislodging by certain types of heavy traffic.
In the aforementioned case, two women were involved in a single-vehicle car accident on a road that was under construction, but open to the public with no crews on site at the time of the crash. The driver was seriously injured and the passenger was killed. Parents of the passenger filed a lawsuit against the general construction contractor (among others), alleging the road was raveling was a key factor in why the driver lost control of her car and crashed into a cluster of trees off the road. They alleged the raveling was a byproduct of the road’s reconstruction.
Among the claims they asserted was one that the construction contractor was negligent for failure to install adequate temporary traffic control devices or signs to warn the public of unsafe road conditions. The driver had testified in deposition that had she known there was loose gravel on a rough road, she would have lowered her speed until she could have better gauged road safety conditions. A crash reconstruction expert testified that when raveling is present, temporary warning signs indicating rough road, loose gravel or uneven pavement should be posted.
Trial court granted defendant contractor summary judgment, agreeing with its argument it had no duty to post temporary warnings regarding the road condition the weekend the crash happened, regardless of whether it was anticipated raveling would occur thanks to a storm that was predicted that weekend. The court also agreed that some of the repair work done by the state’s DOT on the road the day of the crash broke whatever causal link may have existed between the general contractor’s alleged wrongdoing and the crash.
The state supreme court determined the grant of summary judgment was legally incorrect. Justices pointed out that road construction contractors have a duty by common law to act both reasonably and prudently in providing safe means of public travel. Further, this contractor assumed that duty contractually. There was nothing in the contract that stipulated this duty was confined to the hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, when work was actively being conducted.
The high court that while it was erroneous for the trial court to conclude the contractor had no duty of care, this is only the very first step in establishing negligence. With this decision reversed, plaintiff still bears the burden of proof to establish by a preponderance of the evidence breach of duty, causation and damages.
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Pavik v. George & Lynch, Inc., March 23, 2018, Delaware Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Contribution Rights in Florida Car Accident Claims, March 22, 2018, Orlando Car Accident Attorney Blog