Plaintiff in McFadden v. Dept. of Transportation has won the right to continue pursuit of her wrongful death claim on behalf of her husband’s estate, alleging state liability for negligent highway maintenance involving a pavement drop-off. The decision was recently handed down by the Iowa Supreme Court.
The case highlights an important roadway defect that can cause serious problems for motorists – especially motorcycles and other small vehicles – on Florida’s fast-paced roads.
Pavement drop-offs and shoulder edge drop-offs are road conditions where there is a significant change in elevation or uneven pavement from one travel lane to the next or from the travel lane to the shoulder. It’s a characteristic that is known to be dangerous to drivers, and it’s generally seen as a highway engineering flaw.
Drivers leave their lane of travel for a number of reasons, including error or distraction, poor surface conditions or trying to avoid a crash with another vehicle in their lane. In these situations, pavement edge drop-off poses a serious risk to safety because usually the abrupt change in elevation catches the driver off-guard and they often over-correct. Many of these crashes happen when the driver tries to make an immediate return back to the original lane, resulting in “tire scrubbing,” when the sidewall of the tire is forced into the edge of the pavement, causing friction between the pavement and tire. Most drivers in this situation increase the steering angle and end up spinning, sending the car into adjacent travel lanes.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety most recently studied the issue in 2006 in “Safety Impacts of Pavement Edge Drop-Offs.” What they discovered was that while a relatively small percentage of crashes is identified as being “probably” or “possibly” related to edge drop-off, those that were tended to have a higher rate of fatality or serious injury. Higher injury and death rates were associated with edge drop-offs of 2.5 inches are more. For this reason, a number of states have set the maximum drop-off rate at 2.0 inches.
There are a number of factors that play into the severity of the crash, including the speed of the vehicle, the driver’s braking and steering response, the steer angle, the size of the vehicle and the magnitude and geometry of the drop-off.
In McFadden, plaintiff’s husband lost his life after he lost control of his motorcycle while he was navigating a curve on the highway. In her lawsuit against the state department of transportation, plaintiff alleged the drop-off between the paved highway and the gravel shoulder was too steep and that the state had failed in its duty to maintain the highway in a safe condition.
The key question on appeal to the state supreme court was one many plaintiffs suing government entities have to deal with, and that’s whether all administrative remedies were first exhausted as required by law before she filed her civil lawsuit. Defense harped on the fact that she didn’t expressly stated she was the legal representative of her husband’s estate, though she did formally have that title when she filed the case. Though a district court granted summary judgment to the state, the supreme court reversed and remanded the case for trial.
Anytime there is a roadway defect that causes or contributes to a traffic accident in Orlando, it’s worth asking a personal injury attorney whether there are grounds for legal action against the government entity responsible for safe design and maintenance of the road.
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.
McFadden v. Dept. of Transportation , Jan. 22, 2016, Iowa Supreme Court
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