In 2008, the family of a woman who was crushed when a ceiling collapsed in a Big Dig tunnel in July, 2006, settled their wrongful death suit against 15 defendants for $28 million.
Since then, other deadly issues have arisen, including the design of the pedestrian railings that stretch over six miles of the Big Dig system. These railings are a 32" concrete "Jersey barrier" topped with vertical supports that reach upward to a horizontal hand railing. A wrongful death suit, scheduled for trial in September, 2010, alleges design flaws in three respects: the vertical members of the railings are too widely spaced; they have sharp, rather than rounded, edges; and they are placed at a height which is approximately the same as a motorcyclist's seat or car window.
Seven motorists and one passenger have been killed, when they struck these style railings. The sharp edges of the railing, set at the height of the car window or motorcyclists' seat, grab onto the unfortunate person who comes into contact with them. This contact very often gruesomely dismembers and kills them.
If the design of the pedestrian railings included a higher "Jersey barrier", and or rounded corners on the horizontal members, it is alleged that a motorist or motorcyclist who struck the barrier would slide along it, rather than being caught by sharp edges. Some decedents have been traumatically removed from their vehicles by the railing.
It is not surprising that while plaintiffs allege a design flaw through their expert witnesses, the defendants have their own experts who deny any flaw and maintain that the railings were installed according to safety rules and regulations.
While it has been noted that some of these fatal accidents have been caused at least in part by motorist speeding, and often happen in curved roadway areas of the Big Dig, it seems intuitive that the railings were not designed to protect motorists using those areas of the project. For safety sake, the concrete "Jersey barrier" should be increased in height.