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Florida Wrong-Way Crash Victims Sue, Officials Take Prevention Action

Last year, a 20-year-old Coral Springs woman Tweeted she was “2 Drunk 2 Care” shortly before leaving a work-related party at a restaurant where alcohol was served. She then got behind the wheel of her vehicle and drove the wrong way on the Saw Grass Expressway, killing two other young women, both 21, who were headed in the proper direction.

One wonders if the 20-year-old cares now. Her ex-employer likely does, after learning it has been named as a defendant in a dram shop liability lawsuit. Already named in the litigation are the driver, a friend who loaned her the vehicle and the restaurant. Now, it is asserted the employer, too, was responsible for hosting a party and allowing underage consumption of alcohol, resulting in injury and/or death.

The now-21-year-old driver is being held in Broward County Jail on $600,000 bail, where she faces DUI manslaughter charges, as well as charges of vehicular homicide, and driving without a license causing death.

Our Coral Springs car accident lawyers know the civil lawsuit is rooted in provisions of F.S. 768.125, which indicates a person who “sells or furnishes” alcoholic beverages to a person not of lawful drinking age can be therefore held liable for damages resulting form the intoxication of that minor.

According to a defense attorney for the driver, she too suffered significant injuries and has no recollection of the crash or that night.

Wrong-way crashes of this nature are an increasing problem throughout Florida, and officials in several areas throughout the state are taking proactive measures to hopefully reduce the risk.

On the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward, officials are installing wrong-way signs with larger letters and flashing warning lights at five separate interchanges. They will be doing the same on 10 ramps along the turnpike between Doral and Miramar on the Homestead Extension.

In addition to the attention-grabbing alerts, the signs will be affixed with sensors that will send a message to authorities if a driver enters those locations from the wrong direction. The message will include a photo image of the vehicle, which will be sent to the command center of the Florida Highway Patrol and the traffic management center in Pompano Beach. That way, they can respond quickly and hopefully mitigate the damage.

Officials in Texas, which has been using this technology for several years now, say wrong-way crashes there have been reduced by a third. Florida researchers say they will study the new signs here over the next year to determine the effectiveness, and if warranted, expand the program.

Officials say between 2003 and 2012, there were nearly 1,200 wrong-way crashes in the state, causing more than 1,300 injuries and 164 deaths. Of those crashes, 224 occurred on the local turnpikes, and resulted in 22 deaths during that time.

Although this initial safety project did not include the Sawgrass interchanges, officials changed their minds after double fatal crash last year that prompted the pending civil case.

Additionally, the emergency response to that incident was found lacking after investigation, prompting a policy change by Coral Springs Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol. Two dispatchers were disciplined after telling several callers who dialed 911 to alert of a wrong-way driver to hang up and call the Florida Highway Patrol. This did not meet standard operating protocol.

Still, the first 911 call was directly transferred to the FHP, as were several others. The incident prompted police to change their policy, now responding to every reckless driving call on the turnpike (rather than leaving it solely to the FHP), and then canceling if officers are not needed.

Hopefully, these efforts combined will reduce wrong-way driving incidents and response times.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Survivors of Sawgrass wrong-way crash victims sue driver’s ex-employer, Oct. 29, 2014, By Linda Trischitta, Sun Sentinel

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