The Florida Highway Patrol is on the defensive after a number of lawsuits were filed earlier this summer, stemming from a string of devastating Florida car accidents along I-75 in Gainesville in January and alleging that FHP was negligent in allowing motorists to travel along the smoke and fog-covered road.
A total of 13 lawsuits related to the Jan. 29 wrecks had been filed against the state as of Aug.10, the Associated Press reports. The accidents began about half an hour after FHP officers re-opened the highway, which had been blocked off due to smoke and fog. Eleven people were killed, including a Baptist minister, his wife and daughter, and another 18 hospitalized in accidents involving 25 cars.
"Some cars were crushed under the bellies of big rigs," according to the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Schneider. "Others burst into flames and sent metal shrapnel flying through the air, horrifying witnesses watching the violence along Interstate 75."
Officers said it was unclear whether the brushfire causing the smoke was purposely set. It continued to blaze for days after the accidents.
A report issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in April faulted FHP for the decision to open the road to traffic and failing to put up signs warning motorists of the dangerous conditions. FHP officers did not act with criminal intent, according to the report. "Everyone on duty that night acted in a manner they felt was appropriate," FDLE Spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told WCTV.
Nevertheless, FDLE found that FHP failed to heed the warning of at least one trooper on site on the day of the accidents who warned against re-opening the highway. The FDLE report additionally found that FHP lacks an appropriate protocol for determining whether to re-open roads closed due to poor visibility.
FHP responded to the report in August, defending its actions and maintaining that weather and driver error were to blame for the accidents. "[N]o amount of planning or policy will take the place of driver reaction to low visibility and unpredictable conditions," FHP said in a statement.
Given the severity of the accidents, the fatalities and the serious injuries incurred, other lawsuits are likely on the way. Unfortunately, none of the legal wrangling will bring back the people who died in the accidents. Nevertheless, their families - as well as those who were injured in the accidents - may be entitled to some form of legal relief, such as damages covering medical expenses, loss of income, as well as pain and suffering.
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death in Florida and the United States. They are also the leading cause of traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. The South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine work hard to zealously represent clients throughout the area, including Hialeah, Pompano Beach and Boca Raton. If you were involved in a car collision, call Anidjar & Levine's Fort Lauderdale office today at (800) 747-3733 or submit an on-line "Contact Us" form for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.
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