Pa. jury: inadequate curve signage partly at fault

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: “A jury in a Luzerne County civil case ruled that PennDOT was partially responsible for a deadly crash in 2011 that killed a 15-year-old girl, even though the driver of the SUV was driving at roughly twice the speed limit and did not have a driver’s license.” While the driver admitted he was going nearly 90 miles an hour when he lost control, the family’s lawyer “told jurors in closing arguments that PennDOT’s own manuals showed Suscon Road needed more so-called chevron signs that reflect light and warn of an upcoming sharp curve.” [WNEP]


  • 10% liability for PennDOT and 90% liability for the driver is not off the wall, if the road were dangerous and the lack of signs contributed to the accident as a jury found. As many courts have said, “[t]here can be more than one proximate cause to an accident.”

  • Right. Lawyers love the grey world so they can find anyone at fault and take their cut.

    What makes you think that an UNlicensed driver going twice the speed limit would know what to do if there were more signs?

    Any bets on how many millions that 10% “fault” will cost Penn-DOT? The 100% fault kid driving recklessly will be able to pay his 90% share, I’m sure.

  • HFB’s suspicion is probably correct. See

    Since the injury occurred before June 28th, 2011 the State seems to be on hook for the entire judgment. So much for the tripe advanced by trial lawyers simply wanting the government and corporations to pay their “fair share” of the damages they inflict on others.

    At least in Pennsylvania they changed the law to address this obvious unfairness. In the Evergreen State the deep pocket rule reigns supreme.

  • Ok. Let’s assume damages were indeed $1 million or so. Can we all agree that the victim (or her family) should be compensated?

    The immidate question is: who should do the compensating?

    A secondary question is: is there any sense to a system where someone is damaged by a poor person gets less compensation than a someone who is damaged by a rich person?

    I don’t have an answer. But it seems that whatever the answer is, it sucks for the family. They lost a daughter.

  • Allan,

    I actually LOLed at “1” million. I ‘m guessing that it will be just a BIT north of that. Read: 8 digits. All picked up by the Penn taxpayers. Joint and several after all

    Can we all agree that they should be compensated? I guess that depends on what they want. Financial compensation does make sense. My compensation would come from jail time for the idiot kid and him paying me some of his earnings for-oh, I don’t know-the rest of his life. He’ll never be able to pay off the actual “compensation” for my daughter but it would be there for what it’s worth.

    None of this makes it better and I think I would have to move on at some point. I’m just not so sure that the state is at fault unless there was no signage at all. The thought that there is absolute perfection in all signage across America and therefore liability in municipalities that maintain it, does not sit well with me.

    After all, unlike this case, I received MY license and should be able to follow the rules and make decisions according to what the world throws at me. “Inadequate signage” doesn’t pass the smell test.

  • Given the thumbnail sketch of the accident–a reckless driver & an inadequately signed curve–a 90 / 10 split of fault appears reasonable. Though, given the factors of recklessness I somehow doubt the government’s negligence was the proximate cause of squat in this accident.

    What pains me is that a thoughtful jury (presumably) apportioned fault as they saw fit. At 10% of the theoretical $1M, the government paying $100K of public money isn’t letting them off the hook. Why on earth if we are deferring to the jury’s judgment does the government now have to pony up the entire judgment because it is the only solvent party.

    And while the loss of a child is exceptionally sad, that is no reason for the government (or any other person or entity) to pay more than their fairly apportioned damages.

  • Look. It appears that, when the tortfeasor (or criminal) has little money the victim of the tort gets screwed. Is there any way to fix this?

    It seems like there is a moral hazard for poor people. If there are no conseqences for preventing negligence, why should poor people take any precautions? Certainly, the tortfeasor in this case could be charged with criminal conduct, but that does not help the victim much.

    Also, in this case, the victim (or family) is made more whole, at the expense of the taxpayer. A similar case could result in a company getting screwed.

    I do not know how to fix this, or even if there is a fix. What I do know is that no answer seems like the right one.

  • Can we all agree that the victim (or her family) should be compensated?

    No. We cannot agree.

    Furthermore, as you note later the devil is in the details as it matters who is doing the compensation.

    Not every stupid act results in a need to be compensated. In this case, the 15 year old daughter got into an SUV with a kid who had a learner’s permit for 6 months and who was driving under the influence. The 15 year old “victim” was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the vehicle which caused her death.

    At the trial, the plaintiffs’ lawyer asked the driver if additional signage would have stopped him from speeding and missing the corner. His unequivocal reply was “no, it would not have made a difference.”

    I hate the idea that because someone or multiple someones are stupid and act in an irresponsible manner that someone else has to pay for their stupidity.

    More than anything, it seems that the jury latched onto the idea that “someone has to pay” and since the person who caused the accident won’t ever have the money to compensate the victim’s family, the jury looked elsewhere and despite testimony, found the Pennsylvania DOT.

    We should not celebrate or be happy with taxpayers being on the hook for the irresponsible actions of at least two teenagers.

  • 1. Apparently, the boy’s (parents’) insurance paid $300,000 to the family (the amount of the policy).

    2. I have read a few articles on the case. Most of them say that the girl was ejected. They do not mention a seatbelt issue. However, she was in the back seat. Could you please cite to an article indicating she was not wearing a seatbelt? Do you think not wearing a seatbelt in the back seat is negligent? Was there any evidence that she knew the boy did not have an actual license? And, finally, do you think this 15 year old girl acted negligently and, if so, why?

  • Allan,

    1) So the insurance the family paid worked.

    2) One of the articles I read said she was ejected for the lack of a seat belt. The fact that she was in the back seat doesn’t matter as Pennsylvania law requires anyone that is 8 to 18 wear a seat belt in the car. ( Do you want to say that disobeying the law is not negligent in some way?