Motorcyclist Who Hits Panther Sues State for Failed Warning System

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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A Florida motorcyclist who was injured after he collided with a wild panther on a public highway has filed a lawsuit over a failed wildlife warning system.   The Florida Department of Transportation, citing 6 panther collisions in a 1.3 mile stretch of highway since 2004, hired a company called TransCore to install the Roadside Animal Detection System.  The detection system uses sensors to detect wildlife movement, and triggers flashing lights to warn motorists passing by.

Kenneth Nolan, who collided with a wayward panther in March of 2012, sustained a brain bleed and broke his clavicle and some ribs.  Mr. Nolan has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Transportation and TransCore for the failure of the animal detection system.

The lawsuit alleges negligence and installation of a defective product against the two defendants.  Mr. Nolan’s attorney claims that the product was intended to protect humans and panthers, and in this case failed both because the defendants failed to properly install and maintain it.  Over the summer a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation expressed concern that the sensors designed to detect panther movement were blocked by weeds and grass because TransCore mowers did not keep up with plant growth.  If true, this fact will come into play in this lawsuit because it supports a claim of negligence – the defendant failed to perform its duty. 

Mr. Nolan alleges that not only were the defendants negligent in maintaining the area in front of the sensors, but that the system was not correctly installed in the first place.  Some of the sensors may have been set up too close to the road to provide adequate warning to motorists.   There have been some experts who expressed concern about the effectiveness of the system as it is currently installed, which could lend support to Mr. Nolan’s case.

By installing this system, and failing to take proper care to maintain it, the defendants have seemingly opened themselves up to legal liability for panther collisions along this stretch of highway.  Depending on a few factors such as whether the collision occurred in a place that should have triggered a sensor, and whether or not Mr. Nolan was at fault in the collision, this case could make Florida regret installing the sensors in the first place.

At the very least, this case will probably result in adjustments to the system to improve its functionality to protect both motorists and wildlife that wanders onto the roadway.  Additionally, both the Florida Department of Transportation and TransCore will likely be more diligent in the system’s maintenance.   For the sake of motorist and panthers, one hopes that the Roadside Animal Detection System is improved upon and maintained to avoid both future litigation and collisions.  At press time, there is no word on the condition of the panther, which managed to leave the scene of the accident.

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