A student at Penn State died this week when the van he was driving for a local hotel in State College struck a highway signpost. The driver was a Penn State senior and was returning to the hotel in Innovation Park on East Park Avenue when his vehicle missed the exit ramp and hit a large post holding a highway sign that spanned the width of East Park Avenue.
According to witnesses, the vehicle was moving with "excessive speed" when it appears to have missed the exit ramp and crashed into the large metal post. The motor vehicle accident was severe enough to trap the victim for a time, and the van caught fire. Emergency personnel were able to get him out of the vehicle, but he had received severe head and chest injuries and died a short time late at Mount Nittany Medical Center.
With a crash like this, which occurred on dry roads in the middle of the day, it appears that the driver was negligent, driving too fast and that he may have attempted to change lanes to the exit ramp and lost control of the vehicle.
But there may be another factor in terms of liability. The highway interchange where the accident occurred appears to have lacked any guardrails protecting the post from being struck by vehicles.
With most modern highways in Pennsylvania, large immobile objects like bridge supports and large signposts or light posts are typically surrounded by guardrails that prevent catastrophic accidents like this one from occurring.
It could be possible that the Commonwealth could be liable for some share of damages in a death like this, as it is foreseeable that cars may veer off the road and could strike such a post. If this post was missing such guardrails because of design or construction negligence, depending on the apportionment of negligence, they could bear some liability for a tragic accident.
Statecollege.com, "Penn State Student Dies in Hotel Van Crash," Jennifer Miller, September 29, 2014