March 14, 2012
by David B. Bobrosky
In our practice we deal with tragic accidents all too often. While many people are significantly injured or sometimes killed in auto v. auto accidents, the most violent injuries occur in motorcycle accidents, big rig trucking accidents, and on construction sites. And when all three are involved– it’s almost always deadly.
We were recently involved in such a case. We represented a wonderful family who tragically lost their son when his motorcycle collided with a big rig truck. The family was extremely close, and the loss was devastating for all of them.
The accident occurred when the truck turned left out of a parking lot and entered the path of travel of our clients’ son. He did not have time to react and his motorcycle collided with the truck, killing him. The devastation was compounded by the fact that the investigating officer found our clients’ son – the motorcyclist – at fault for the accident.
The family came to us seeking answers. They couldn’t understand how the accident could be their son’s fault when he was just proceeding straight when this truck blocked his right of away causing the accident. In reviewing the police report, the truck was turning left out of a parking lot across north bound traffic to head south. The officer concluded that the trucker had entered the roadway and had essentially taken over the right of way from north bound traffic before finishing the turn to head south bound.
We immediately went to the scene of the accident to investigate, and noticed some very important factors:
1. The truck was not turning out of a typical driveway, it was turning out from a construction site. This is very important because contractors and sub-contractors have strict regulations that need to be followed regarding safety. Once in litigation, discovery showed that the truck driver was hauling material off of the job site.
2. Also, the driveway the trucker was turning out of was at the end of a sweeping curve. When we put ourselves in his position, it was very difficult to see any traffic coming from his left to ever know if it was safe to turn.
Construction Site Safety
Safety is paramount to each and every construction project. These safety requirements start with the State of California Construction Safety Orders established by CAL-OSHA. These Orders establish minimum safety standards whenever employment exists in connection with the construction of any fixed structure.
The general contractor on any site is responsible for the overall safety of the jobsite and work environment. Each contractor and worker involved in a construction project relies on the general contractor to establish the environment, framework and protocols within which they will work.
Regardless of the general contractor’s responsibilities, however, each supporting contractor (e.g., a grading contractor) and equipment operator (e.g., the truck driver) is responsible for the safety of its own operations and equipment. It is the responsibility of the general contractor to make sure each such supporting contractor and equipment operator is carrying out duties safely and complying with all safety protocols, rules and regulations.
The most glaring safety violations in relation to this tragic accident were the lack of signs and flaggers to notify and control traffic along the roadway adjacent to the construction site. The use of warning signs and flaggers were required by CAL-OSHA Sections 1598 and 1599 when hazards exist because of traffic or haulage conditions at work sites that encroach upon public streets or highways. Other standards required or recommended the use of flaggers as well, including:
- The Work Area Traffic Control Handbook (WATCH Manual)
- Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)
- Manual of Accident Prevention for Construction (MAPC)
The use of flaggers and flagging has become a highly recognizable and important safety component of construction activity. Because construction activity is temporary in nature, it calls for unexpected and unusual traffic to be moving on and off of the site.
The large size of the vehicles that tend to be moving on and off of the site also added to the need for flaggers, as the vehicles require extra time to move across the roadway. The need for flaggers in this situation was compounded by the large sweeping curve that made it more difficult for the trucker to see oncoming traffic, and difficult for our client's son and other drivers to see the truck exiting the parking lot.
Notwithstanding all of the regulations, standards, and industry practice related to signage and flaggers, the Defendants (including the truck driver and involved contractors), failed to provide any protection for motorists. Once all of this information came out through litigation, the Defendants settled the case prior to a trial.
The settlement was an important step for the family on their road to recovering from this tragedy. As we see time and again, such simple and obvious safety standards, if followed, would have prevented a tragic death.
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