St. Joseph Sued Over Fatal Car Crash
The accident happened way back on April 14, 2017. The driver, who was under the influence of both alcohol and drugs, and five passengers were in a stolen vehicle going north on Riverside Road. The driver, who was going 62 miles per hour in a 40 mile per hour zone, slowly veered to the side until the passenger side wheels of the car fell off the road. He then overcorrected, reentered the road, went into the oncoming lane, and caused a car crash.
Four passengers died in the crash. Another suffered a traumatic brain injury. The driver only suffered minor injuries. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and assault.
The hurt passenger and the families of the deceased passengers have taken the City of St. Joseph to court. They are claiming that the poor maintenance and design of Riverside Road contributed to the accident, and their claims have more merit than they might seem to have at first glance.
Roadway Had Serious Problems
At the time of the crash, Riverside Road had been newly paved. While that meant that the surface was smooth, though, it also meant that the white line on the outside of the roadway had not been painted, yet.
There was also a massive, nine-inch drop off from the pavement at the side of the road. To put that in perspective, the Missouri Engineering Policy Guide recommends a maximum drop off of only two inches.
There were also no signs to warn of the danger.
Expert testimony in the case said that the lack of the lines made it easier for drivers to veer off the outside of the roadway. He also said that the drop off made it almost impossible to recover without a “slingshot reentry” into the oncoming lane of traffic, even if the driver was going the speed limit.
According to the lawsuit, this is what caused the accident.
City Focuses on Criminality
In its defense, the City of St. Joseph is saying that the cause of the crash was the driver’s impairment and the fact that they were in a stolen vehicle.
But these defenses focus more on prejudicing the driver than on explaining the accident. The driving immediately before the accident was not egregiously unsafe, and veering off the side of the road could at least partially been because there was no white line to mark it.
Appeals Court Insists Causation Issue is for the Jury
The lawsuit was filed in July 2017, and the Buchanan County Court sided with the City in February, 2019, without letting the case go to trial. The court said that, as a matter of law, the bad road design did not cause the crash.
In December, 2019, the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned the decision. It said that it was improper for the court to make such a factually-intensive ruling. Instead, the case had to be resolved by a jury.
A trial is set for next month.