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After a long wait, dad seeks justice against Maryland authorities

After eight years of procedural maneuvers and back-and-forth fighting between the parties, a 2004 lawsuit over the death of a 12-year-old girl in a 2001 crash on the Hatem Bridge is finally going before a Maryland jury.

The tragic car accident occurred in 2001, when a 12-year-old girl and her stepfather were driving a pickup truck west on Route 40 over the Susquehanna River. The stepfather's pickup truck hit water on the bridge, began to hydroplane and crossed the centerline into the oncoming lane. A Jeep Cherokee driving east struck the pickup. The jeep, which a 21-year-old male was driving, hit the pickup's passenger side, killing the young girl instantly. The stepfather was later pronounced dead at nearby Harford Memorial Hospital.

The father of the young girl, on behalf of his daughter's estate, sued the Maryland Transportation Authority, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the State Highway Administration. He claimed the state agencies were negligent in not installing a dividing barrier on the four-lane bridge even though they were aware of potential safety issues. As a result, he argued that the state failed to use reasonable care to protect the public. Part of his argument is that the state considered installing a barrier and eventually decided on a type of barrier for the bridge but stopped the project in 2000.

The State argues that although it was a tragic loss, fault lies with weather on the day of the crash, not the lack of barriers or with the state of Maryland. The State claims that a hard rain falling that day caused the accident and the two fatalities. One of the first officers on the scene testified that he had to drive five miles per hour with the wiper blades maxed out because it was so difficult to see through the rain. A concrete barrier topped with reflectors has since been installed the length of the bridge between the eastbound and westbound lanes.

Those in similar situations may be able to file a lawsuit to recover, for example, medical expenses and compensation for pain and suffering.

Source: baltimoresun.com, "Trial of 2004 lawsuit over Hatem Bridge fatal accident finally under way in Bel Air," Erika Butler, Nov. 8, 2012

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