Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently upheld a jury verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit, finding that while negligence by traffic engineers caused a man’s untimely death, they could not be held liable because the state government had control of the traffic signals in question.
Plaintiffs in McIntosh v. Progressive Design and Engineering et al. had hoped to overcome the so-called “Slavin doctrine”by virtue of the fact the fatal crash occurred just 16 days after the traffic signal had been erected. This was within the 90-day warranty period extended to the government by the construction company to address any defects.
The Slavin doctrine, a product of the 1959 Florida Supreme Court decision in Slavin v. Kay, holds that construction companies and engineers contracted by municipal governments can’t be held liable for defects in their work if the government accepts the work and so long as the defect wasn’t latent.
In this case, the problem was a traffic signal installed at an intersection near a mobile home park in Pembroke Pines. According to court records, there were essentially two sets of signals at the intersection – the first set which was intended for use by those exiting the mobile home complex and a second set, farther back in the intersection, intended to direct other motorists.
But the layout was confusing. This point was even made by an employee with the Florida Department of Transportation when the engineering firm sent over plans of the intersection for review. However, the engineering firm drafted a response, and this response was accepted by FDOT, which agreed to move forward with the project.
Plans were also reviewed by traffic engineering officials in Broward County, as well as the local sheriff and police agencies.
The last meeting the design company had for the project was in 2003, and no further requests for change were made. The plans were then sent to FDOT’s construction contractor. This agency had the ability to make changes if necessary, but was built according to design.
Once the project was completed, the county conditionally accepted it, and the intersection was opened in August 2004. The conditional acceptance indicated there was a 90-day contractor warranty period in which the contractor would address any problems if “something went wrong.” The only entity allowed to authorize changes, however, was FDOT.
Little more than two weeks after the signal had been installed, the deadly crash occurred.
An accident reconstruction expert for the plaintiff testified faulty design of the signals was the primary cause of the crash. Essentially, decedent’s line of sight would inevitably cause him to focus on the second signal, rather than the first. Additionally, a tree – which was not included in the traffic engineering firm’s plans – blocked the view of the first set of signals.
A jury returned a verdict finding that while the engineering firm was negligent, it could not be held liable per Slavin. Plaintiff appealed, but the 4th DCA affirmed.
Our Boca Raton car accident lawyers understand, however, plaintiff did not walk away completely empty-handed. He – along with decedent’s other children – received settlements from other defendants in the case, including FDOT and the county.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
McIntosh v. Progressive Design and Engineering et al., Jan. 7, 2015, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal
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