Water Main Break on Highway Leads to Fatal Accident

Water Main Expert WitnessThis case involves a male Plaintiff who was injured in a serious automobile accident caused by a pool of water that had collected on the highway from a broken water main. At the time of the incident in question, the man was driving southbound on a two lane highway when he came upon construction workers who were repairing a breached water main. The workers had closed down the left-hand lane, however the right-hand lane was kept open to traffic, despite the fact that it was also covered in water from the leak. When driving through the water the Plaintiff’s vehicle hydroplaned, causing him to crash into the median divider at a high rate of speed. The man had to be airlifted from the scene, and was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. It was alleged that the construction workers should have closed both lanes of traffic due to the severity of the leak.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. What is your experience working on water main breaks in similar situations?
  • 2. What safety precautions must be in place in order to prevent an accident like the one in the case from happening?

Expert Witness Response E-045323

Expert-ID: E-045323

The organization I managed as Water Utility Director maintained nearly 2,000 miles of water pipe, necessitating my close involvement in the engineering and operations of the water supply infrastructure. When fixing a water main break, safety precautions are dependent on the specific situation, but would need to be coordinated with local law enforcement and safety officials. Typically, the water utility is concerned about pavement undercutting and failure due to a leak, but road submergence is also an issue. Public safety is always the first concern. Reasonable precautions could include barricades, flagmen (if the road remains open) and other common sense measures like inspecting the road and ensuring passable conditions. Normally, road closure is required with significant submergence.

Expert Bio

This expert has 40+ years of experience in drinking water supply, treatment and distribution systems. From 1994 to 2013, he served as the director of one of the largest drinking water utilities in Virginia, supplying water to more than 400,000 residents. A civil and environmental engineer by training, he has maintained a particular focus on hydrology and water treatment facilities, water supply systems, water distribution technologies, and water utility operations over the course of his career. He has directed raw water source selection studies, water distribution system analyses, water quality studies, rate studies, corrosion control investigations, treatment plant rehabilitation projects, and construction supervision of water treatment plants, pipelines, and other water supply projects.

Expert Witness Response E-006754

My primary experience with respect to this incident involves the management of safety for various Fortune 100 utility organizations. Those organizations had continual instances where temporary traffic control had to be established to deal with ruptured gas lines and downed power lines on roadways. This is an activity for which utilities must conform to federal/state DOT regulations and the National Consensus Standards. My initial thoughts are that the hazard (water on the roadway) was not properly controlled by the entity setting up the traffic cones. They did not properly warn and/or control driver exposure to the hazardous condition that caused the incident. Drivers should not have been able to access the hazard if traffic control methods were properly established.

Expert Bio

This highly qualified expert serves on the faculty of a large public university in Pennsylvania as the Director of the PA OSHA Consultation Program. He has prior background working for power companies in both New York and Pennsylvania. He is a widely recognized expert in occupational safety and health management; he lectures and consults extensively nationally and internationally on effective safety management systems. A Certified Safety Professional, he holds a B.S. in Safety Management and an M.A. in Industrial Relations. He has held key positions with prominent companies, such as Niagara Mohawk Power, Metropolitan Edison, and Hershey Foods USA. He is a Past President of both the American Society of Safety Engineers and the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. He was also named a Fellow by the American Society of Safety Engineers, which is recognized as the highest achievement in the environmental health and safety profession.


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