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Published on Aug 23, 2011 by Edgar Snyder

Who's Responsible for the Deaths of the Flash Flood Victims? Were They Preventable?

road flooded in Pittsburgh

Last Friday's devastating flash floods in Pittsburgh made national news. Two women and two girls were killed when they were on Washington Boulevard in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh, which quickly became submerged within minutes. A mother and her two daughters drowned after being trapped inside their minivan, while the fourth woman was swept away by the raging waters.

Officials are calling this a freak accident, but was it? This was the second time in two months that Washington Boulevard flooded, and this wasn't the first time someone died from flooding on the same road. In 1951, a woman was killed and 12 others were injured when Washington Boulevard flooded.

After that tragedy, officials talked of fixing the road. They discussed installing alarms that would warn drivers when the road was flooding, as well as a few other ideas. For whatever reason, none were put into place.

Although the storm was considered one of the worst our area has seen in a long time, the question remains – why did four more people have to die when the road was knowingly dangerous?

Managing partner Attorney Richard Rosenthal interviewed with KDKA yesterday about the legal responsibilities governmental organizations have in situations like these to protect the welfare of the residents of western Pennsylvania. The problem is that it leads to a lot of finger-pointing, while the victims and their families suffer.

"The state takes the position they are responsible for the road surface only and the city claims that they and the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority have a disagreement as to who maintains what. It's not hard to understand why something like this could occur," says Rick Rosenthal.

Lawsuits against the government are not easy because of what's called 'sovereign immunity.' In Pennsylvania, victims have a limited right to sue the government.  Even if a guilty party knew about the problem and had enough time to fix it, the state limits the amount recoverable from the city and its authorities to $500,000 – for everyone combined. The state can only be sued for $250,000.

It doesn't seem fair that the victims' families only receive that amount of compensation for losing a loved one…especially for a road that has been known to have flooding issues since the 1920s.

People shouldn't have to die for dangerous roads to be fixed and for governmental agencies to take action. While it's too late for the victims of the flash flooding, I hope that a solution can be found for Washington Boulevard so that more senseless tragedies can be avoided in the future.

At our law firm, we are not afraid to protect the rights of those who have been injured or who have lost a loved one due to defective roads and lack of action from the government. Please contact us for a free legal consultation if you think you might have a case.

I speak for all of our partners and staff at Edgar Snyder & Associates when I say our thoughts go out to the Washington Boulevard victims and their families.

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