CONSTRUCTION ZONE ACCIDENT
Douglas, et al. v. Loch Sand & Construction, et al., Case No. 04V070400267
Three college engineering students from University of Missouri-Rolla were on a weekend trip visiting friends at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Missouri when their 1997 Honda Civic ran a stop sign and pulled into the path of a tractor trailer hauling a load of corn. The collision occurred in a construction zone, on a newly opened route which had been closed just two days prior to the accident. The collision resulted in fatal injuries to the car driver, Emily Douglas, and her front seat passenger and boyfriend, Daniel Irsik. The backseat passenger and best friend, Paul Boyer, survived the crash with major injuries. A resulting lawsuit by Paul Boyer and the parents of Daniel Irsik and Emily Douglas was settled after four years of litigation.
Plaintiffs brought suit against the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission (MHTC) and Loch Sand & Construction Co. alleging that the thirty-six inch stop sign erected at the newly opened route was a deviation from the Missouri Standard Plans for Highway Construction. Plaintiffs alleged that the construction contract adopted the MHTC requirement that all stop signs placed in a construction zone be forty-eight inch signs. Plaintiffs also alleged that the barrels and barricades approaching the stop sign created visual confusion and obstructions for Emily Douglas as she approached the intersection.
Plaintiffs also claimed that Foster, the driver of the semi-truck failed to keep a careful lookout or take adequate evasive action when it was apparent the car was running the stop sign. The semi-truck did not apply pre-impact braking and after the collision the plaintiffs’ Honda Civic was attached to the cab of Foster’s truck and drug 650 feet to their final position. A commercial vehicle inspection of Foster’s tractor trailer at the accident scene resulted in the issuance of four citations, two for being overweight and two for out of adjustment brakes.
Loch and the MHTC responded that Emily Douglas’ view was not obstructed, and there was no requirement for a forty-eight inch stop sign. Additionally, Loch claimed that it was following the directives of MHTC and all traffic control devices were approved by MHTC and therefore the contractor could not be held liable.
Foster denied that he had sufficient reaction time to avoid the collision and three defense experts were retained to advance the theory that the driver had insufficient time to detect and recognize the approaching hazard, decide what evasive maneuver to take and complete the action before colliding with the Honda Civic.
At the time of the accident Daniel Irsik, age 21, was in his junior year at University of Missouri-Rolla majoring in mechanical engineering. The Irsik family had five household vehicles all insured by the same Farmer’s Insurance agent. One week after the accident the Irsik’s attorney requested certified copies of all household policies and placed Farmer’s Insurance on notice of underinsured motorist claims. After suit was filed Mid-Century Insurance, a member of the Farmer’s Group, intervened to protect the underinsured policy in which Daniel Irsik was the rated driver.
In 2006, more than three years after requesting certified policies, Farmer’s Insurance complied and produced four Irsik policies written by Farmer’s Insurance and one policy written by Mid-Century Insurance, both companies are part of the Farmers Insurance Group. All five Irsik policies contained $500,000 of underinsured motorist coverage. Later in 2006 during depositions of corporate agents for both Farmer’s and Mid Century new certified policies were produced with different endorsements for underinsured motorist coverage. The corporate agent for the Farmers Insurance Group admitted that in 2002, the year of the accident, Farmer’s had a computer software problem that created underinsurance at the $500,000 level without any endorsements further defining the coverage. The Irsiks claimed that as a result of ambiguity in policy language they had five policies of UIM for $500,000 each resulting in stackable coverage of $2.5 million.
All parties attempted mediation in the Spring of 2006 and failed to resolve any claims. Expert discovery proceeded and in October 2006, and two months prior to trial, the Parties agreed to settlement.
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