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Pedestrian Accident Lawyers Discuss Florida Court of Appeals Decision Demonstrating Special Issues When Suing Public Entities for Road Design Defects

While pedestrian accidents often are caused by distracted, careless, or indifferent motorists, some collisions between motor vehicles and people who are walking, jogging, or running are the result of the faulty design of roadway features. Approximately 13 people die per day by cars after being struck while on foot. A report entitled "Dangerous by Design 2016" created by the pedestrian safety group Smart Growth America identified nine Florida major metros as among the 11 most dangerous metro regions in the U.S. for pedestrians. While municipalities and other government entities can be liable for pedestrian accidents caused by poor roadway design, the process of suing a government body or agency poses special challenges because of the principle of sovereign immunity. In this blog, our Miami pedestrian accident lawyers examine a Florida Appellate Courts decision that focuses on the important role sovereign immunity plays when people sue cities, counties, or the State of Florida for design defects that contribute to pedestrian fatalities. 

In Gonzales v. City of Atwater, surviving family members of a 72-year-old woman who was run over in an intersection filed a lawsuit against the motorist and the municipality. The motorist who slammed into the elderly pedestrian was executing a left turn at an intersection into a shopping center. Evidence introduced at trial indicated the pedestrian had the right-of-way, but the driver testified he did not see her prior to crashing into her with his vehicle.

While this case is from another state, the law in terms of the liability of a public entity for negligent roadway design immunity is similar. A governmental entity has immunity from liability for personal injury or wrongful death if an accident involving a roadway feature or improvement was authorized by government employees reasonably exercising discretion when the decision was made.

The estate of the pedestrian argued that the city could not claim design immunity because the municipality recognized the risk the intersection posed to pedestrians and authorized changes. The plaintiffs contended that the failure of the government to follow through on its own construction plan created a gap in its immunity. The trial judge sided with the family of the decedent and the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff finding the municipality a hundred percent liable for the accident while finding the driver as not responsible.

Unfortunately, the appellate court reversed the trial judge based on its analysis of design immunity. The court ruled that the design plans that arose out of the prior safety study were not relevant to the reasonableness of the original intersection design. The court essentially determined that only the reasonableness of the employees' discretion in designing the intersection when originally constructed was to be considered. The later evaluation and determination that the intersection posed threats to pedestrian safety could not be considered in term of the reasonableness of the employees' decision on the existing design.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence

Governmental immunity will not always protect a public entity from liability from the negligent design of a roadway feature. However, the doctrine of sovereign immunity poses special obstacles that include special procedures and pre-litigation notice requirements that can be subject to a much shorter deadline than the statute of limitation. If sovereign immunity does apply, experienced personal injury attorneys must investigate the potential liability of private individuals. Our Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano will tenaciously pursue the fullest financial compensation. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida's top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.



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