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Wrongful death verdict highlights Ohio's construction zone perils

Nearly four years have passed since the death of an Ohio paving inspector in an accident that occurred in 2010 on I-271 in a township in Summit County.

A signal day marking a notably material development in the wake of that fatality occurred last Thursday in Cuyahoga County, where a jury awarded the man’s family $39 million in a wrongful death lawsuit that was filed against his employer.

The litigation was centered on safety conditions that reportedly lacked in the construction zone where the man was working on the night he died. His employer -- The Shelly Company, an Ohio paving firm -- failed to sufficiently staff the zone with highway patrol officers, a matter it was supposed to have attended to. The alleged result of that was that drivers entering the zone were not given sufficient warning that materially reduced speeds were being enforced within the zone.

The inspector was killed as he was standing on the interstate shoulder with his back to traffic. A driver who was going too fast was unable to stop and struck him from behind. That motorist is not facing any criminal charges in the matter.

Shelly’s conduct was obviously viewed harshly by the jury, as evidenced by the notably high damage award. The victim’s family was awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $19 million, with an additional $20 million being earmarked as punitive damages against the company for its perceived failure to implement adequate safety measures.

The defendant company has also been ordered to pay the family’s legal fees.

The Shelly Company termed the verdict “unjust” and states that it will seek to overturn it.

Source: The Plain Dealer, “Jury awards $39 million to family of highway paving inspector killed on I-271 in 2010,” James F. McCarty, April 4, 2014

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