Design Flaws in Boston's Big Dig Tunnel System Railings Reportedly Lead to Accidents and Deaths

As of February 14, 2010, State Trooper Vincent Cila was one of seven (7) motorists and passengers who had been killed when they struck the handrails lining Boston’s Big Dig tunnel system between 2005 and 2008. One other person reportedly lost an arm and survived. Cila struck the vertical handrail post on top of the barrier, according to the police reconstruction. His left arm was severed and he suffered a broken neck and chest trauma.

Stretching along some 6 miles of the Big Dig system, The railings stretch about six (6) miles through Boston’s busy tunnels and highways. They sit on top of raised walkways lining the roads, and were intended to prevent maintenance workers from falling into traffic. However, in a recent Boston Globe article, three roadside barrier and accident reconstruction professionals said the design is flawed in several respects, including: (1) The horizontal runners of the railings are too widely spaced; (2) the railings line walkways a little less than 3 feet above the road making it more likely that they will snag motorcyclists or car passengers partially forced from their vehicles in a collision; and (3) the thin vertical posts have squared off corners that could act as a cutting edge, even at lower speeds.

The handrail design is at the center of a lawsuit filed by Trooper Cila’s widow in 2006 in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. The suit attributes the trooper’s death mainly to the design of the rectangular vertical posts supporting the handrails. The posts, just three-quarters of an inch wide, have edges, which the suit contends can act like the cutting blades in a paper cutter. The defendants in the Cila lawsuit, which include the Massachusetts Turnpike, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, and other Big Dig contractors, said in court filings that the hand railings and walkways complied with all state and federal regulations, as well as to industry standards.

The deaths involving handrails made up the majority of the traffic fatalities reported in Big Dig tunnels between 2005 and 2008. According to the Mass Department of Transportation, there were nine (9) fatalities in the Big Dig Tunnels during that time frame, with seven involving handrails.

If you or a loved one has experienced serious and/or catastrophic injuries, or wrongful death, due to an automobile or highway accident, contact the Boston law office of Swartz & Swartz, P.C.  We will answer your questions and protect your legal rights. Speak with a personal injury lawyer today by calling (617) 742-1900, or toll free outside of Boston, 1-800-545-3732.

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