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ARTICLE ID 195800

$________ , INCLUDING $________ FROM DEFENDANT STATE OF NJ – TORT CLAIMS ACT – STATE IDENTIFIES NEARBY STRETCHES OF INTERSTATE HIGHWAY WITH SIMILAR DIMENSIONS AS IN NEED OF MEDIAN BARRICADES AND FAILS TO INCLUDE THIS AREA OF I-80 – DEFENDANT DRIVER CROSSES OVER AND IMPACTS WITH SEVERAL OTHER DEFENDANT VEHICLES BEFORE DECEDENT'S CAR IS STRUCK AND OVERTURNS – CAR ENGULFED IN FLAMES – DEATH ACTION.

Morris County, NJ

The plaintiff contended that the defendant State DOT acted in a palpably unreasonable manner due to not including this particular area as in need of a median divider, despite the fact that it had identified other areas of the highway that were in proximity, and which had similar hazards as those mentioned in the locations in which median dividers had been placed in a series of recent contracts. The plaintiff maintained that the defendant driver of a GMC Envoy crossed over and struck the decedent’s vehicle, beginning a chain of events that eventually led to the decedent’s vehicle overturning. The decedent’s vehicle caught fire and it was heavily disputed if the impact injuries rendered him unconscious before he was aware of the fire. The decedent left a wife and a child, age 18 at the time of the death. He was employed as a maintenance worker. The drivers initially settled for the policy limit totals of $________.

The plaintiff established that the State DOT had previously determined that the accident area possessed dangerous physical characteristics such as: An unprotected grass median of 44 feet; a grade differential between the westbound and eastbound lanes with the median sloping downwards from the west to the east lanes; a high rate of accidents; a high rate of average daily traffic; a 65 mph speed limit; and a close proximity of various interchanges as well as on/off ramps. The plaintiff also introduced evidence that the defendant, State of New Jersey Department of Transportation, specifically identified the area where the crash occurred as the third most dangerous spot in the State for crossover accidents in ________, planned to address this critical area as well as others identified in its Cross Median Crash Prevention Program, and entered into various contracts to do so, which were completed prior to the accident.

The state alleged that the crossover accident occurred at a location not contemplated under the Cross Median Crash Prevention Program, and therefore, the state was not on notice of the alleged dangerous condition. The state further argued that it was entitled to plan and design immunity under the Tort Claims Act. The defendant state moved for summary judgment. The plaintiff argued that in view of the evidence that the site of the accident possessed the same dangerous characteristics as other nearby areas specifically delineated by the DOT as in need of the placement of median dividers – the jury could determine that the state mistakenly failed to include this crossover, identified by it as the third most dangerous cross-over in the state as also in need of work and acted in a palpably unreasonable manner. Judge Stephen J. Taylor denied the state’s motion. The 49-year old decedent left a wife and a child who was 18 at the time of death. The plaintiff introduced evidence of economic loss of approximately $________, including lost income and Green/Bitner damages.

The plaintiff also contended that the absence of a brain or spinal cord injury reflected that the decedent was probably conscious for a short period after impact, and while the vehicle caught fire.

The defendant opined that based upon the evidence that the decedent’s car was struck nearly head-on by a driver who was traveling at approximately 85 mph, it was clear that he had immediately lost consciousness from the blunt force trauma. The state also maintained that the medical examiner found no signs that the decedent was conscious after the impact. The plaintiff countered that there was no mention in the medical examiner’s report that a determination of the lack of consciousness was made.The case settled shortly after the state’s summary judgment motion was denied, and following a mediation that was held before Mark Epstein, JSC (ret).

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