Suing the Florida Department of Transportation for the Express Lanes

Our Broward traffic accident injury law firm proudly represents a Homestead, Florida mother of four, Melvina Durden, who was severely injured on July 11, 2008. She was a passenger in a car traveling north on I-95 early on the very morning that the Florida Department of Transportation and its construction contractors opened a new express lane. The lane divided a lane of I-95 with plastic sticks called “delineators.” Interstate 95 in Miami is one of the highest used roadways in the world. It essentially links the entire East Coast of the United States from Maine to Miami.

The Florida Department of Transportation or FDOT is a $7Billion agency of the State of Florida responsible for managing the infrastructure of I-95 in Florida. This includes highway expansions and maintenance projects. This particular project is called 95 Express.

The FDOT states on its website that one of its “Safety Goals” is to decrease the frequency, rate, severity and potential for crashes by implementing safety and engineering programs. The FDOT divides Florida into seven distinct districts plus the Turnpike. Miami falls within its District 6 and is overseen by the State Safety Office’s Chief Safety Officer.

In 2008, the FDOT decided in an effort to minimize “daily traffic and congestion” to convert two of I-95 northbound lanes from State Road 112 to just north of 151 Street NW to convert them into toll roads. The plan was to open the 95 Express in stages: Phase 1A northbound between I-195 and the Golden Glades, opened first. Phase 1B was the southbound lanes between Golden Glades and I-395, and on the northbound lanes between I-395 and I-195. Phase 2 is from Golden Glades to Broward Boulevard. In October 2010, the FDOT commissioned a survey of South Florida commuters. Did you get surveyed? Neither did I. But the results showed that less than half of those surveyed wanted to see express lanes developed on other South Florida Highways.

Deeply hidden on the FDOT’s website are posted guidelines for using the express lanes. In bold print the FDOT advises that the express lanes are for “long distance” trips only. Of course, they don’t define how long a “long distance trip” is but they do warn that once you enter the lane, you cannot exit until the lanes end. They continue to say that you cannot cut through the plastic poles to “break out” of the express lane. Valuable information? But unless you drive on I-95 while navigating the website, the only way for commuters to know this would be to rely on signage and warnings.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Durden, a passenger on the very first day of the express lane operation, she did not have the benefit of the FDOTs warnings. Sadly, the driver of her car tried to escape the lane and ended up losing control of her car seriously injuring herself and Mrs. Durden. Suing the FDOT and its contractor on her behalf poses many hurdles as the law is designed to afford the FDOT near bullet proof protection from law suit. Florida Statute S768.28 provides the framework for suing the State and any of its agencies, like the FDOT, for injury, property damage or death. Section 768.21(6)(a) requires that before any law suit can be filed, the Florida Department of Financial Services must be put on notice of the claim within three years of the date of the incident with some very specific information, including the claimant’s date and place of birth, social security number and detailed information about any penalties the claimant may have had, including civil, criminal and administrative. In addition the claimant must state whether there are any unpaid debts owed to the government in excess of $200.00. Once the claim is filed and the appropriate agency is served, the claimant must also serve the Department of Financial Services with a copy of the complaint. To make matters worse, the FDOT enjoys a limitations-of-damages cap of $100,000 per claimant or $200,00 per incident regardless of the amount of damages their negligence may have caused. Any lawyer who dares sue the FDOT can only charge or collect as attorney fees 25% of the amount recovered compared to 40% in standard negligence cases.

Our North Miami car crash lawyers recommend that if you are involved in an accident on I-95 due to the failure of the FDOT to properly warn you of a dangerous condition or traffic engineering design defect to immediately consult with an experienced Florida PI lawyer.