Utah DOT Immune from Wrongful Death Lawsuit in 2011 Road Collapse

A Utah Judge recently ruled that the Utah Department of Transportation ("UDOT") is immune from a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Justine Barneck who died in 2011.

The parents of Justine Barneck sued UDOT after the 15-year-old girl died from injuries in a crash in 2011. Shortly before midnight on July 13, 2011, Michael Barneck and Justine were driving west on SR 35, unaware the road had collapsed about 11:45 p.m. The chasm was more than 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide and was caused by water that had backed up where the creek bed passes under SR 35 near Tabiona, the lawsuit states. Water had opened a chasm in State Road 35, and the girl and her father drove into it.

Their Ford Excursion struck a piece of asphalt that had been pushed up where the road had given way. The velocity of the Excursion carried it over the hole, and it crashed on the far side, the Utah Highway Patrol reported the night of the accident. Justine was killed, and Michael Barneck suffered serious injuries, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit says earlier that day, UDOT employees worked in the area where a blocked culvert had caused a temporary lake about 20 feet deep on the north side of SR 35. Despite the failure to remedy the situation, UDOT's agents and employees stopped working at the site of the blockage and temporary lake sometime in the afternoon or evening of July 13, 2011. UDOT did not leave an employee to monitor the situation and/or warn drivers of the dangerous conditions created by the water and saturated fill, the family claims. The lawsuit claims the agency was negligent in not posting warnings of any kind or putting lighting in the area.

Despite the fault by UDOT and its employees, the Utah Governmental Immunity Act releases liability for governmental agencies. The ruling by the judge in this case will prevent the Barneck family from receiving any kind of recovery for their loss.

If the willful or negligent acts of another have resulted in the death of someone you know, contact the attorneys at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend by calling 713-222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584.

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