Congratulations Florida. Another person has DIED again on our dangerous roadways. As if the horrible deaths of Brittany Musumeci and Alexis Musumeci on Saturday night were not bad enough, we had to start the week with the death of 3 year Trinity Handy on S.R. 82 in Fort Myers. (Some reports lists her name as Trinity Hardy.)
This is the THIRD fatal crash on S.R. 82 this month alone! It is also the SECOND time a young child was killed. In the past four years, State Road 82 has had almost 200 accidents, 13 fatalities, and over 230 injured people.
You don’t have to be an engineer to know that is an UNACCEPTABLE amount of death and injury.
As a result, this case presents a very serious legal issue – whether or not the State of Florida has negligently made and maintained a killer roadway. This is not only a legal issue, it is also a matter of great public importance and safety.
IS THE GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBLE?
This is not the first case we have covered where the Government was suspected of being a negligent party who contributed to the causation of a fatal accident. Last month, Fort Lauderdale teen John Baker was killed when a boat he was riding on collided with a low hanging bridge at night. It is suspected that the installation of a $25 flood light under the bridge could have prevented the accident.
While most car accidents happen when one or more drivers do something negligent, there are other cases where roadway design, roadway maintenance, and traffic enforcement causes or contributes to a crash as well.
In one article I read about Trinity Handy’s case, a woman stated that her dad was also killed on SR82 back in 2010. In another article, an eye witness claimed that police were not doing enough to stop speeding in the area of SR-82 where the accident happened. In yet another article, one driver said the roadway is too dark and another stated it is too narrow.
Odds are there is a flaw in the way this stretch of roadway is designed – as is made obvious by the comments of drivers familiar with that stretch of SR-82. When I refer to a flaw, I do not only refer to the actual curves and bends of the road or the presence of pot holes or other tangible problems.
I am also referring to the designation of speed zones, placement of stop lights, the use of well painted lane markers and reflectors, wide shoulders, drifting driver bumpers, and the use of other traffic control devices.
For a multitude of reasons, the Government may have little choice but to design a road with certain curves and bends and a limited number of lanes. Often this has to do with property rights and physical limitations of the area, such as the presence of canals, sewer, or gas lines, geographic obstacles like rock formations, and State budgeting.
However, there is little reason why the speed limit isn’t reduced or why law enforcement isn’t out there doing effective traffic patrols. I bet if everyone slowed down just 10 miles per hour, a lot of the accidents could have been averted or at least mitigated.
While I am not personally familiar with this stretch of roadway, what I do know, is that this is NOT acceptable in the United States of America.
The good news is that the Florida Department of Transportation has spent millions of dollars on a roadway study of SR82 that is to be made public soon. I wonder how many people lost their lives to this terrible stretch of pavement since its inception. The other good news is that the State has plans to renovate the roadway.
Of course we are talking about Government, so naturally, the most dangerous stretch of roadway isn’t due for renovation until 2018… of course. When it comes to Government, “If it ain’t broke, fix it; and if its broke, it ain’t gonna get fixed…”
This leads me to my ultimate point: Can the Government be held responsible?
The answer will depend on what the evidence proves. To challenge the design and maintenance of a roadway, a personal injury attorney must conduct a very extensive investigation using engineers, road design experts, and accident reconstructionists. Use of Florida’s public records law to obtain documentation of road design, maintenance, and accident history form the Government are equally important.
Trust me, the State is not going to admit they are responsible.
To determine if the Government can be held accountable for Trinity Handy’s death and the injuries sustained by Taqueria Hardy and Monique Harris, a very thorough and extensive investigation must be conducted. It is not enough that the local news has made a story of it.
That said, my instinct as a lawyer tells me there is something well worth exploring in this case. Locals know the lay of the land and when everyone says the same thing about a certain place, there is usually a reason for it: State Road 82 is dangerous.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE IN A CHAIN REACTION CAR ACCIDENT?
A much easier question to answer concerns the driver who is clearly responsible for this case. As we discussed at length in the case of Steven Caine, whenever a vehicle rear-ends the vehicle in front of it, Florida Law presumes that the party doing the rear-ending is the party responsible. After all, a driver has little control of what goes on behind his/her car.
Florida Law places the responsibility on drivers to operate their motor vehicles at safe speeds and at safe distances from the vehicles in front of them. A safe distance is one that enables a driver to stop short without crashing into the back of the car in front of you.
When one car rear-ends another, it does so for one of four reasons:
- It was traveling too fast to stop
- It was traveling too close to stop
- It was traveling too fast and too close to stop
- The driver failed to pay attention and simply failed to stop
Florida Law also requires drivers to simply pay attention. Was the driver of this pickup truck distracted? Was he day dreaming and not paying attention? Was he texting someone, watching a YouTube video on his phone, or taking a selfie?
Yes – each of these are reasons why people have been killed in other car accidents.
In the case of Trinity Handy, Taqueria Handy, and Monique Harris, it appears as though the pickup truck was the responsible party because it rear-ended Monique’s Toyota Camry, causing a chain reaction accident that left little Trinity dead.
According to police, the pickup failed to notice that the cars in front of it had slowed down for traffic, thus causing the driver to crash into the rear of Monique’s car. Police confirmed that alcohol was not a factor in the crash.
It is also important to note that both Trinity and Taqueria were properly restrained in car-seats. Monique did absolutely nothing wrong to cause or contribute to this crash. It was a matter completely out of her hands.
At the end of the day, while it will bring little or no solace to the mom who lost her child, the driver of the pickup truck is the party responsible for causing this crash – and is also the one who can be held accountable in a court of law.
YET AGAIN, Florida’s roadways fail to deliver safety to its drivers. This makes three fatalities that I am personally aware of in the past three days and ANOTHER three on the same exact roadway this month alone! I really hope the State’s traffic study results in some major changes to fix the problem.
If the message isn’t clear to the State of Florida, let me say it again:
TOO MANY PEOPLE ARE DYING AND GETTING HURT ON STATE ROAD 82. FIX THE PROBLEM NOW.
People do not pay enough attention when they are driving as it is – we do not need them handicapped even further by poorly designed roadways.
My new mantra when it comes to Florida traffic fatalities is this: If traffic fatalities were a new disease, Florida would be the epicenter of its outbreak.
My condolences go out to the Harris and Handy families who are clearly suffering from a tragic loss that will forever remain inexplicable. I apologize in advance if any last names were misspelled.