Lawsuit revived against road contractor in fatal crash

Supreme Court Justice James T. Vaughn Jr.

DOVER — By a 3-2 decision the Delaware Supreme Court revived a civil action regarding a fatal crash in Frankford six years ago and the supposed responsibility of a contractor to warn motorists of potentially dangerous road conditions.

In a 45-page order last Friday, a previously dismissed case against Dover-based George & Lynch, Inc. was returned to Superior Court.

Ashlee Jean Reed, of Frankford, and the parents of the late Jacqueline M. Pavik, of Dagsboro, filed suit claiming that the company was negligent regarding a lack of traffic control signs on a stretch of road affected by loose gravel, depressions, potholes and ruts in a condition known as “raveling.”

The plaintiffs claim that the unexpected road conditions on Aug. 26, 2012 caused driver Ms. Reed “lose control of her vehicle and crash into trees off the roadway.” Ms. Pavik, a passenger, died from injuries sustained in the crash. The occupants were both 17 years old at the time and heading home from Ocean City, Maryland, according to documents.

Writing for the majority, Justice James T. Vaughn Jr. determined that Delaware case law was misinterpreted in the lower court’s ruling and “The fact that George & Lynch followed (Delaware Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices approved) safety standards during working hours, in other words, does not mean it acted reasonably to address risks that may have been posed to drivers during off-hours.”

The entire decision is online at courts.delaware.gov/opinions/.

The crash occurred at approximately 10:50 p.m. as Ms. Reed was driving a 2003 Honda Accord westbound on Omar Road approaching West Road three miles east of Frankford, the Delaware State Police said at the time.

While George & Lynch argued that the state standard “contains no specific requirements about placing signs on a temporary road surface,” Justice Vaughn determined, “While that is true, the DeMUTCD does provide for the use of warning signs when road conditions warrant their use, and the fact that the DeMUTCD does not specifically enumerate the circumstances when they are needed to reasonably mitigate a safety risk does not mean they never are.”

Any issues regarding Ms. Reed’s alleged driving negligence should be left to a jury, Justice Vaughn maintained, and not connected to George & Lynch’s motion for summary judgment.

The majority expressed confidence in a jury’s ability to render a decision absent the sway of an emotional loss of a young life.

Justices Karen L. Valihura and Gary F. Traynor supported returning the action to Superior Court, with Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. and Collins J. Seitz Jr. opposed.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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