Motorist is Killed by Impact With Loose Manhole Cover

Automotive Expert WitnessThis case involves a motorist in Iowa who struck a loose manhole cover and was killed in the resulting crash. At the time of the incident in question, the manhole frame was under construction, and the crew had abandoned the site. However, when the incident occurred, there were no warnings or barriers around the manhole cover, which resulted in the decedent approaching the manhole at a high rate of speed. In the resulting crash, the decedent’s car struck the manhole with its right front tire, at which point the cover came loose and allowed the tire to fall into the open manhole. The car then flipped over in the roadway, at which point it was struck by another vehicle moving in the opposite direction.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Please describe your DOT experience as it relates to supervising manhole frame construction.
  • 2. What are the best practices for manhole and manhole frame construction and crew supervision?
  • 3. What could have been done to prevent something like this from happening?

Expert Witness Response E-098099

I have done multiple research projects with my state’s  Department of Transportation, Department of Roads, and Highway and Transportation Department. I am a board member of the Educational Board of the International Road Federation. I have extensive knowledge related to highway construction and safety measures. My overall experience would extend to cover safety measures with different elements in highway construction. Manholes should be poured on same level with the hard/soft asphalt. Any level differences may result in a rough ride and potential accidents, especially in roadways where high traffic volume and high speed is anticipated. During construction, the lane portion where the manhole is constructed should be blocked from traffic using road barriers and proper signage with reflecting marks. The use of proper signage to alert drivers could be of a help. Also, diverting traffic from the construction portion in case concrete is not set or roadways are not leveled could prevent catastrophic accidents.

Expert Witness Response E-098416

I am a Professional Engineer with over 25 years of experience and registered in 20 states.  I have worked on numerous construction projects with public utility and roadway improvements across a variety of states and their departments of transportation. The typical practice involves setting the manhole structure, placing & compacting backfill, setting the manhole frame & grate, sealing the manhole frame and then placing permanent pavement. In cases where the permanent roadway pavement is not being immediately placed, the contractor should have used bituminous mix to place a uniform taper completely around the manhole frame at a specified slope provide a smooth transition for vehicles traversing across it.


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