Crash Into Panther, Sue State

By: Michael Seinberg

You’re out on your motorcycle for an early spring ride, just minding your own business when, from out of nowhere, an incredibly rude wild animal suddenly runs across the street. Not having supernatural reflexes, you hit the animal, an endangered Florida panther, and go flying, sustaining multiple injuries. The panther doesn’t even have the good graces to die and runs away, leaving you in a heap on the road. How rude!

So, of course, your only option is to sue the state of Florida – specifically the Florida Department of Transportation – and a company called Transcore ITS, which designed the area’s newly installed (two months earlier) R.A.D. (roadside animal detection) warning system. Kenneth Nolan and his wife Debra are each seeking $15,000 for, “Permanent disability, disfigurement, mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life, expense of hospitalization, medical expenses, loss of earning, and loss of earnings capacity.” Debra is suing for loss of “support, services, and consortium of her husband.” One hopes the panther has a good attorney as Lawrence Bohannon, the Nolans’ attorney sounds like a real shark.

The Nolans claim part of the issue is that the grass wasn’t mowed where the R.A.D. sensors were placed and there was no large panther crossing sign either. Considering the fact that there are only about 160 of these rare beasts still in the wilds in Florida, I’m having a hard time buying this suit at all. According to Florida wildlife officials, the main two causes of panther deaths are fighting amongst panthers and collisions with vehicles. So far, this year has not been kind to the animals with 15 dead and counting.

The bottom line is that riding a motorcycle is, has always been, and always will be, a risky (and voluntary) activity. When one goes out on a bike, a certain amount of inherent risk is assumed, in that you are moving along at highway speeds without a ton or two of metal around you, free to both enjoy and be endangered by the elements of nature. What if it had been a squirrel, a pelican, or an alligator? If you’re not willing to assume the risk, don’t ride. And if you hit an animal, don’t blame nature and then sue the state.

And here’s the important thing to remember – the state of Florida has invested a significant amount of money in these R.A.D. sensors, with the ultimate goal of keeping motorists and wildlife safe. But unfortunately, they are being exploited for profit, and now the state finds itself facing increased legal liability exposure as a result. Will lawsuits kill this important advance in safety technology? Will other states see incidents like this and think twice about adopting new, life-saving technologies?

Either way, Florida taxpayers are footing the bill for this preposterous case. Personally, I’m rooting for the panther.

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