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Liability case: New Jersey village ignored broken street light

Evidence in a traffic crash can go beyond damage to the vehicles, the drivers' behavior and the victims' injuries or deaths. Police and independent investigators also note conditions at the time of a car accident. The time of day, the weather's influence and other factors may prove to be critical elements in a criminal or civil probe.

A Bergen County pedestrian accident last March killed a 71-year-old Ridgewood lawyer. The man was struck by a car as he was walking home from the downtown train station. The victim suffered a collapsed lung and died three days after hospitalization from a traumatic brain injury.

Police did not charge or cite the driver. The accident report noted the collision took place in a "dangerously dark" area, where a street light was broken.

The victim's widow has given Ridgewood officials formal notice she is planning to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The tort claim notice states the driver wasn't paying attention, but zeroed in on village officials for failing to fix a traffic hazard – the non-functional street light in a known "commuter corridor."

The village and electric officials apparently were aware the light was broken several months before the pedestrian fatality.

The impending $6.5 million lawsuit will request damages for pain and suffering. Financial losses the victim's widow is expected to suffer include the deprivation of 13 years' worth of government benefits. The time reflects the husband's estimated life expectancy had he lived.

Blame for an injury car accident or fatality may be shared among defendants and even between defendants and plaintiffs. Complaints against governments are handled differently than civilian cases. Special rules and deadlines apply in liability claims against governments or government entities.

Local, state and federal governments are responsible for the maintenance, repair and improvement of public roads. The disregard of public safety is negligence and requires enough proof to convince a jury that damages are warranted.


Source: 
The Record, "Broken streetlight to be cited in suit in Ridgewood pedestrian's death" Chris Harris, Jan. 06, 2014

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