Establishing Liability in a Florida Defective Roadway Design Case

There are many Federal and Florida state laws in place that protect drivers from accidents that occur as the result of a defective roadway design. Florida experiences a never-ending flux of tourist traffic and some of the highest rates of roadway construction in the country. This leads to many opportunities for defective roadway crashes to occur.

It can be very difficult to establish liability in a defective roadway design case, due to the large number of statutory protections that are afforded to the government entities that are responsible for designing our public roadways and highways. A recent Arizona Supreme Court decision, however, shows Florida residents that it is not entirely impossible for a plaintiff to recover compensation when his or her injuries are the direct result of a defective roadway design.

Glazer v. State, No. 1 CA-CV 12-0572, arose from a motor vehicle accident that occurred in 2007 on Arizona’s I-10 freeway. One of the defendants was driving east along the I-10 freeway, which had been constructed in 1967. The I-10 freeway also travels through much of Florida in an east-west direction. The defendant driver was forced onto the highway shoulder when a semi-tractor trailer attempted to change lanes. The defendant driver was able to avoid colliding with the semi-tractor trailer, but she was unable to drive back onto the freeway. She lost control of the vehicle, “shooting across the median and into oncoming traffic.” The vehicle crashed head-on into the plaintiff’s vehicle, causing severe injuries to the plaintiff and killing the plaintiff’s husband and minor child instantly.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit, claiming that the State of Arizona was negligent in failing to install median barriers that separated the eastbound and westbound lanes of the I-10 freeway. The plaintiff offered expert testimony in support of her claim from a transportation engineer, who testified that the State should have installed the barriers in the location of the crash.

An Arizona statute holds public entities immune from personal injury lawsuits that result from a public roadway’s defective design if the defendant can establish that the roadway complied with the generally accepted engineering or design standards that were applicable at the time the plan or design was created, and that the public was given an adequate warning regarding any unreasonable danger. According to the Arizona Supreme Court, this defense applies even when subsequent modifications and changes to the roadway have rendered its design substandard.

The State moved for summary judgment on the basis that a median barrier was not required at the time the highway was constructed, 40 years prior to the accident. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the law did not apply because the circumstances in play at the time of the crash, i.e., the size, speed, and volume of the traffic on the I-10 freeway, indicated that the highway may be unreasonably unsafe. The court also relied on the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony that there had been at least 10 cross-median collisions along that section of the I-10 freeway during the four-year period leading up to the collision at issue.

The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling, concluding that the law did not apply because the plaintiff was challenging the state’s failure to install medians during the 10 years leading up to the collision, after there had been a material change in the volume of traffic on that section of the freeway.

In its opinion, the Arizona Supreme Court first noted that the statute was applicable to the present case, but that the trial court’s denial of the State’s summary judgment motions was proper. Although the State had proven that the roadway adhered to the safety standards in place at the time that it was designed, the State failed to show either (1) that the lack of a median barrier did not require the State to provide a warning because it was not unreasonably dangerous, or (2) that if the open median was unreasonably dangerous, the State provided an adequate warning to motorists about the condition.

If you or someone you know has suffered damages in a car accident, the attorneys at Lusk Drasites & Tolisano can help. We have over 50 years of combined experience representing Southwest Florida accident victims, including residents of Cape Coral, Naples, and Fort Myers. We can guide you through every step of the process and help you seek the compensation that you deserve. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up a free consultation today.

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