Thirteen lawsuits were recently filed against the state of Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles from family members of people who were killed on Interstate 75 or from individuals who injured in those accidents. Eleven people died on Interstate 75 near Gainesville on January 29, 2012.
It is highly unusual for such a large number people to die in auto accidents in such a short period of time. The numerous crashes occurred in the early morning when a mixture of smoke from wildfires and fog gathered in the area and decreased driver visibility in an area of roadway that also was unlit. A highway patrol officer suggested the road be kept closed due to the unusual conditions, but allegedly, someone higher up in his chain of command decided to keep the roadways open. Six separate fatal crashes in the area, involving six tractor trailers, a motor home, a van and a number of cars. Eighteen people were hospitalized in addition to those that died.
The Florida Highway Patrol later stated that the crashes were unavoidable, while a report from April developed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports that errors made in decision-making by the Florida Highway Patrol contributed to the deadly accidents. The Department of Law Enforcement said there were not enough signs available to provide motorists with much-needed information about the lack of visibility and danger. The Florida Highway Patrol countered that it is the responsibility of the Department of Transportation to provide proper signage. The highway patrol also stated that some motorists did not reduce their speed, even though they were driving into low-visibility conditions, which contributed to the number of accidents. Separate analysis of different reports conducted by the local newspaper did identify alcohol use in two accidents, but there were no injuries or deaths associated with them.
Of course, it isn’t surprising that no state agency wants to accept the blame. The accidents in January caused a tremendous loss of life, which, at this juncture, appear to have been avoidable. The lives lost caused incalculable anguish on the part of family members who lost loved ones. While lawsuits have been filed, it could be many years for the survivors and their relatives to be handed judgment and resolve the suits.