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Fatal Highway Crash Prompts Legislative Change, $1.45 Million Wrongful Death Settlement

For years, state officials in Oregon dragged their heels when it came to putting up barriers they knew were needed along the interstate. They knew the deadly consequences for failing to do so, and yet set other priorities, vote after vote, year after year.

Then in 2014, a psychiatrist and mental health counselor were carpooling to work at a local hospital one morning when a pickup truck, thrown off course by a torrential downpour and a speeding oil truck, came careening from the other side of the highway, across the raised dirt median and directly into their lane. The health care workers were struck head-on and both were killed.

The widow of the deceased driver happened to be a commissioner for the City of Portland. She vowed enough was enough. She pushed state legislators and the governor into passage of the “Fritz-Fairchild Act,” so named after the victims, that gave the state a six-year timeline to install $20 million worth of cable medians along 100 miles of protected highway. She also settled for $1.45 million a pending lawsuit against the state, alleging negligent highway design. Evidence had been presented indicating state officials knew not only were the dirt berms in the median ineffective at preventing cross-over crashes, they may have actually made them worse by serving as a “launching pad.” Another negligence lawsuit for $9.5 million brought by the commissioner against the pickup truck driver and the oil truck company is still pending.

When it comes to barrier protection along the highways, state and federal governments owe a responsibility to road users to ensure these thoroughfares are reasonably safe. Failure to do so can result in serious injury and wrongful death, which may prompt litigation. In some cases, traffic engineers, design firms and construction companies have also been liable in such cases.

In Florida, issues have been identified with four-inch guardrail end terminals, manufactured and installed by a company called Trinity Industries. This summer, a federal judge in Texas handed down a $663 million judgment against the company for producing guardrails that were faulty and can jam and spear vehicles, rather than deflecting them. Jurors found the company liable for defrauding the Federal Highway Administration after it was revealed the firm chose to conceal evidence of modifications to the product that made them cheaper – and less safe.

NBC Miami recently spotlighted a Florida Department of Transportation investigation that found Florida has more of those unsafe four-inch guardrail end terminals throughout the state than the safer five-inch guardrail systems. In District 4, which includes Palm Beach, Broward, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin Counties, there are 450 of the four-inch systems. That’s just what’s been documented so far; there could be more. That’s already more than any other region in Florida.

Federal authorities estimate there are likely 200,000 of these altered guardrails installed nationally. This has prompted a number of injury and wrongful death lawsuits across the country.

In the settlement reached by the widow commissioner in Portland, Ore., the state did not concede liability, but chose to settle to avoid mounting legal costs. In addition to the $1.45 million paid to the driver’s estate, another $750,000 was paid to the survivors of the passenger who was killed.

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.

Additional Resources:

Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz Receives $1.45 Million From State for Husband’s I-5 Death, Dec. 8, 2015, By Aimee Green, The Oregonian

More Blog Entries:

U.S. Dept. of Transportation to Require Automatic Braking for Vehicle Top Safety Rating, Nov. 27, 2015, Palm Beach Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog

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