After hearing both sides of the argument in a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of a deceased Minnesota high school assistant football coach, a Waseca County Court judge said he would take everything under advisement and file his decision within 90 days.
In November 2012, the football coach was killed at the intersection of old Highway 14 and County Road 27 in Waseca when his vehicle was struck by a semi-truck. According to the lawsuit filed by his parents , the coach was stopped at an intersection that had, for a long time, been a four way stop intersection. Believing the intersection to still be a four-way stop, he proceeded forward. A fully loaded semi-truck, traveling in the opposite direction, slammed into the coach’s driver’s side door, killing him on impact. The suit claims that Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) employees made bad judgments and decisions pertaining to the traffic control methods and signage at the intersection. Apparently, MnDOT removed the four-way stop without any announcement or signage signaling the public about the change.
According to the complaint, the intersection was initially regulated with a traffic light in August 2006. It was converted to a four-way stop in August 2012 because motorists on Highway 14 were constantly running the red light. Three days before the accident, MnDOT modified the intersection again, creating a two-way stop. The suit contends that the state failed to erect any signage warning motorists of the traffic control change and this failure to warn caused the victim to believe the semi-truck had an obligation to stop. MnDOT officials state that the lawsuits should be dismissed, citing governmental immunity. Assistant Attorney General Eric Brown also believes the case should be dismissed, because under MnDOT’s Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the state has immunity.
The manual states that the department is not required to notify motorists when a traffic light is removed if the light is temporary, as was the case at Old Highway 14 and County Road 27. According to the manual, “‘cross traffic does not stop’ signage can be used when engineering judgment indicates that conditions are present that would cause drivers to misinterpret the intersection as an all-way stop.” Attorneys for the plaintiff said the manual is simply a means to shield MnDOT from accountability. A “cross traffic does not stop,” was posted the day after the accident. MnDOT has since installed traffic-control signs.
The plaintiffs are moving for maximum monetary award; they hope to affect MnDOT regulations and procedures and seek to address all procedural shortcomings so that others won’t have to experience the ultimate tragedy, the unnecessary and wrongful of a loved one.
Drivers have a right to expect that the government does all that is necessary to provide safe roadways. When the government and/or business fail to do so, lawsuits almost always result in safety improvements. We see this not only on our roads, but in product development, hospitals and diagnostic treatment, commercial premises, and other similar settings. Shielding corporations and government entities from liability or damages is not a solution. Holding those who create dangerous conditions (or allow known dangers to continue without public warning) accountable for their actions, improves safety, saves lives, and prevents serious injuries.
Once the judge makes his ruling both sides will have the right to appeal the decision. Lawsuit Financial will watch and wait. Will he do the right thing for the citizens of Minnesota?