Last Sunday a van careered across several lanes of traffic on a highway overpass on the Bronx River Parkway before plunging off the side of the road and landing, upside down, in the Bronx Zoo, where all seven occupants, including three children, met their death. Yes, the van driver was surely at fault. He was probably speeding (68 in a 50 mile per hour zone), and he should not have lost control of his vehicle. But that doesn’t let the State of New York off the hook if it failed to design and maintain a safe roadway.
And it sure looks like New York State screwed up here. The van apparently hit a concrete curb on the right side of the roadway, which catapulted the van so high that it completely cleared, without touching, the four-foot high guardrail/fence.
This is totally unacceptable. What kind of engineering genius would put concrete curbs that act as launching pads for errant cars and send them flying over the guardrails? Make no sense at all.
And this was not the first time! Last year a car cleared the guardrail at nearly the same place. This section of the parkway is on the New York State Transportation Department’s “5 Percent List,” which is a federally mandated list of locations “exhibiting the most severe highway safety needs.”
This sad case reminds me of another case I wrote about in last year’s municipal liability outline, Garner v. State, where a motorist lost control of his car on a highway bridge, then ran into a snow bank packed against the concrete barrier guard at the edge of the bridge. The snow bank acted like a ramp, vaulting the car off the bridge and onto a roadway below. The State lost that case, but apparently the State still has not learned its lesson.
Here’s the lesson: we, the citizens of New York State, do not want to be launched into orbit if we, for whatever reason, lose control of our vehicles on your roadways, bridges and overpasses. Please remove your launching pads. Donate them to NASA!
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