Firm-Wide blog

Caltrans Settles Wrongful Death Suit

By Burg Simpson
January 21, 2014
2 min read

The San Francisco Bay Bridge closed to the public on Aug. 29 as the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) works to demolish and rebuild the eastern span. As it closed the structure, it also closed a legal battle over a deadly crash on the Bay Bridge in 2009. Caltrans will pay $700,000 to settle the wrongful death lawsuit.

A trucker was killed on Nov. 9, 2009, when his vehicle tipped over the bridge’s railing and plunged 200 feet. In the crash’s aftermath, it was revealed that Caltrans managers never approved the S-curve design and OK’d portable concrete rails along the road even though they posed a risk for people heading over the bridge, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

In 2003, Caltrans said that it OK’d the bridge’s overall design, but not changes made by a lower-level engineer that called for a sharper turn than allowed under freeway standards outlined by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Some say the department built a “concealed trap” by surprising motorists with the sharp turn, which is unbanked, has narrow lanes and shoulders, and a flimsy railing. Caltrans engineers had even warned officials that the temporary railings posed a risk for vehicles, because if they hit the structures, chances are they would ride up and over them.

‘Tragic event’

Fifty-seven-year-old Tahir Fakhar had picked up more than 3 tons of pears from the Port of Oakland, which was more than his authorized load weight and caused his truck to be more prone to tipping. His trucking company, Hayward, also was named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that Fakhar didn’t realize a sharp detour had been installed as he approached the bridge on the day of the crash. His truck then hit a part of the curve that wasn’t banked, even though one had been designed, the Chronicle reported.

A number of factors played into the crash, according to the news source, such as the lower-level engineer who made the changes saying that a slower speed limit would have prevented deadly crashes. Other correspondence shows that some Caltrans officials warned about the dangers of the portable barriers, or K-rails, which were likely used because they are easy to move under tight construction deadlines.

The Chronicle said that there were 48 reported accidents in the weeks after the S-curve opened, but fewer crashes occurred after that. 

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