Utah Wrongful Death Lawsuit Results in $4.4M Verdict

The family of a man killed in an auto accident in a construction zone has been awarded $4.4 million by a Utah jury, who found that the state’s Department of Transportation and a construction company were partly at fault for the fatal crash.

The wrongful death accident lawsuit was filed by the wife and children of Richard Kunzler, who died as a result of injuries sustained on July 18, 2006, when his vehicle crashed while swerving to avoid a car ahead of him that suddenly slammed on its breaks to avoid a line-up of cars stopped due to construction work on a bridge.

According to the family’s complaint, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and Staker & Parson Cos., a subcontractor, failed to give motorists appropriate warning of traffic back-ups and construction in the area, creating a situation that increased the risk of an auto accident. The plaintiffs argued that as Kunzler crested a hill on an interstate, he suddenly came upon stopped traffic without sufficient warning.

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The jury found that the Utah Department of Transportation was 35% responsible for the accident, Staker & Parson was 45% responsible and Kunzler was 20% responsible for his own injuries. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the family was awarded $4,396,268, which will be reduced under Utah personal injury law. The award will be reduced $879,254 to account for Kunzler’s comparative negligence and the portion of the verdict against UDOT will be limited to about $500,000, because it is a state agency.

The case is similar to another fatal construction zone auto accident lawsuit filed earlier this month in Texas, which was also brought against the state’s department of transportation and a local contractor. In that case, a mother who lost her son and father in a July 2009 truck accident, alleges that inadequate safety precautions were taken on a stretch of interstate that was being repaired, causing their family vehicle to be rear-ended by a tractor trailer travelling at a high speed. That accident lawsuit was filed three days after another fatal crash occurred on the same stretch of Texas highway during a similar traffic jam caused by the same construction.


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