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Villaneuva v. RS&H Inc. – Negligent Roadway Construction Claim Weighed

Errors in roadway design and construction can result in serious injuries to motorists. Because the costs incurred by injured victims is so significant, it often becomes necessary to pursue litigation in order to be compensated for those damages.

When a road or intersection is poorly designed or constructed, victims may have limited options for compensation per the Slavin doctrine. The doctrine holds that if the road owner (i.e., city, county or state) accepts the designs or construction work of the contractor, the contractor can no longer be held liable – even if the design or construction contained clear errors. Victims still have the option of taking action against the owner/overseer of the site.

In some cases, though, when injury occurs while the work is pending or underway – i.e., before it has been “accepted” – claims may still potentially be brought successfully against the contractor as well. This is what is at issue in Villaneuva v. RS&H Inc., before the Fla. 5th DCA.

According to court records, a Florida car accident at a rural intersection resulted in the death of decedent. The crash occurred in 2007, and it was the site of a county project for roadway expansion.

In 1999, defendant engineer firm RS&H entered into an agreement with county to perform the engineering design services for the project. Within in one year, the company turned over a set of design plans to the county, and all the paperwork bore the insignia of defendant as the professional engineer. Those plans included a provision for a 55-mph speed limit throughout the accident scene and approaching the intersection.

The county reviewed those plans and decided some modifications were necessary, and undertook those without the aid of defendant. In the meantime, there was some preliminary surveying and construction that took place in the meantime. County still used the original plans and tweaked some aspects of them. The suggested speed limit was one of those aspects altered, though the placement of advanced warning of the upcoming intersection was not altered. In 2002, county engineers submitted a final plan that was very similar to the one submitted by RS&H, and that plan bore the county engineer’s insignia.

It was never clear exactly how much work was conducted before the county submitted and accepted those final plans,and that became a primary question before the trial court. One witness testified the advance warning signs (a key issue in the crash case) likely weren’t installed until after the county submitted its final plan because that is generally one of the last things installed. A witness for plaintiff countered.

The lawsuit against RS&H alleged negligence design of the road based on improper placement of the advanced warning signs. RS&H sought summary judgment on grounds the plans it created were not the ones the county used, the county assumed full liability when created its own subsequent plans and further, the county assumed full liability under Slavin.

Trial court did not weigh on the Slavin issue, but instead ruled plaintiff had not presented enough substantial evidence to prove the advance warning signs were installed prior to the county’s submission of the final plan. Summary judgment was granted to defendant.

This was error, the 5th DCA ruled, not necessarily because there was enough evidence to prove plaintiff’s case, but because the judge took it upon himself to rule on a matter of fact, whereas only matter of law can pave the way for summary judgment. Matters of fact must be weighed and decided at trial.

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

Additional Resources:

Villaneuva v. RS&H Inc., Feb. 13, 2015, Fla. 5th DCA

More Blog Entries:

Analysis: Florida Worst State for Crash Victims, Jan. 30, 2015, Port St. Lucie Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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