2013-10-24 / Front Page

Pell Bridge Lawsuit Filed

Two years after a motorist and her passenger died in a crash on the Claiborne Pell Bridge, family members of the deceased have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state, the Department of Transportation (RIDOT), and the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA).

Kathleen Meunier and Kenneth Prior died from injuries suffered in the 2011 accident when their car collided head-on with another vehicle that crossed the center line. The other driver involved was not criminally charged, but his license was temporarily suspended and he pleaded guilty to traffic infractions.

In the suit filed on Monday, Oct. 21 in Newport Superior Court, the plaintiffs turned their attention to the state and its agencies, which they claim were “egregiously negligent” in failing to construct a center protective barrier or other safety features to prevent serious bodily injury or death from crossover accidents.

The plaintiffs assert in their civil complaint that RITBA and RIDOT had actual notice of previous crossover accidents occurring on the bridge and that the agencies nevertheless failed to fund the installation of a median barrier. To evidence RITBA’s knowledge of safety problems, the pleadings describe state efforts in 2009 and 2010 to secure federal grants to pay for such a barrier. The complaint says that applications completed by RITBA specified that median barriers are deemed necessary by road design standards when the average daily traffic (ADT) is greater than 20,000 vehicles per day, with the Pell Bridge having an ADT of over 27,000. The grant applications also allegedly described the number of head-on collisions occurring on the bridge in the years prior to the 2011 fatalities.

The lawsuit maintains that the state had adequate time to make safety improvements on the bridge based on this known information, and that its failure “to spend the necessary funds to install a dividing barrier or other means of safety to prevent serious bodily injury and/ or death due to cross-over accidents” constituted negligence that resulted in the deaths of Meunier and Prior.

While the wrongful death complaint does not specify the exact amount of damages sought, it asks the court to award damages “in a sufficient amount so as to compensate plaintiffs for the damages sustained, plus interest and costs.” In a separate count, the husband and minor daughter of Meunier seek additional damages for loss of society and companionship.

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