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Article Finds Thousands Killed in Preventable Road Construction Zone Accidents

As a Fort Lauderdale auto accident lawyer, I’ve written here several times about tragic and preventable injuries to construction and emergency crews working at the side of the road. A Dec. 21 article from the New York Times examines that issue from another angle: work site injuries to motorists who happen to be passing by. According to the article, few laws exist to ensure that contractors working on public roads follow safety laws, and guidelines are violated. As a result, the article estimates, 4,700 Americans were killed in the past five years in work zone accidents, most of them preventable. And because the laws don’t provide much accountability, the contractors responsible often continue to be hired.

Accidents happen, the article says — but safety experts say they don’t need to happen as often as they do. According to David Holstein, chief traffic engineer for the state of Ohio, an accident-monitoring system in that state found that crashes increase by as much as 70% in construction zones. With stimulus package money likely to fund many new construction projects, more deaths may be likely in 2010. Transportation officials focus on driver error by raising speeding fines and making “move over” laws. But 85% of deaths in construction zones are driver deaths, the article said, and federal safety officials don’t track whether and how contractors might be to blame.

One example the article gave was an accident that took place on I-75 in Sarasota. Zep Construction, the contractor, planned to use a “rolling roadblock” to slow down traffic for work on a bridge just after midnight. However, the roadblock caused traffic to stop completely rather than slow, in an area with a blind spot and a 70-mph speed limit. Drivers Manuel Ramirez and James Brashear came to a stop, but a semi truck behind them couldn’t stop in time. It jackknifed into a line of cars, killing both men and wounding 10 other people. Brashear’s son Tyler, 11 at the time, was physically unhurt but trapped in the crushed vehicle with his father. The article said Zep had followed almost none of the rolling roadblock guidelines provided by the Florida Department of Transportation, but the state still gave the contractor an excellent performance rating. The Brashears have sued Zep.

I am disturbed to read that there are so few regulations on construction zone safety in our state, or across the U.S. According to the NYT, those guidelines that do exist are mostly not mandatory or specific, and states resist changing this because of fear of litigation. Ironically, as a Miami Gardens car crash attorney, I believe states are in a worse position without such rules, because accidents, and thus lawsuits, are more likely when safety is lax. More importantly, failure to make and follow adequate safety rules means more preventable deaths, like those of James Brashear and Manuel Ramirez. No contractor sets out to create deadly accidents, but this article shows that good intentions are not enough. If government agencies and contractors are not willing to set and enforce higher standards, the accidents — and their legal liability — are likely to continue.

Cohn, Smith & Cohn has more than 25 years of experience representing clients who were seriously injured or lost a loved one to a car crash caused by someone else’s carelessness. In many cases, these clients find themselves dealing not only with the pain, grief and emotional trauma of a serious accident, but also with unexpected financial strain. As time goes on, high medical bills related to the crash begin to pile up, a problem that is sometimes compounded by the loss of the victim’s salary. Our Cooper City car wreck attorneys help these victims and their families move the financial burden back where it belongs — to the negligent person or people who caused the crash. In a lawsuit, victims can claim all past and future medical bills, lost income and other costs, along with compensation for their pain, suffering, injuries and any disability or death.

Cohn, Smith & Cohn offers free, confidential consultations to all potential clients, so you risk nothing by speaking to us about your case and your options. To set one up, please contact us through the Internet or call (954) 431-8100 today.

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