Bobcats are small versions of larger front-end loaders, and they are familiar sights whenever heavy lifting is required in small spaces. The handy little vehicles generally do not travel on highways in New Jersey, and they are seldom involved in motor vehicle accidents. A tragic exception occurred on March 4, 2019, when a Bobcat was being used to remove snow from a footbridge on Route 208 in Passaic County.
A Hawthorne Borough public works employee was using a Bobcat to clear snow from a pedestrian overpass over Route 208. While the Bobcat was on the bridge, a portion of its floor underneath the Bobcat collapsed, causing the Bobcat to plunge onto the highway below. The Bobcat struck a van that was heading north on Route 208. The operator of the Bobcat was seriously injured in the fall. According to news photographs, the Bobcat struck the van on the passenger side and nearly crushed the vehicle. The front seat passenger in the van was badly injured. The driver of the van also suffered injuries, but he was treated and released from a local hospital.
The bridge is owned by the state, but according to a Department of Transportation spokesperson, Passaic County is responsible for bridge maintenance. The county disputes the DOT’s argument, denying that the county has any obligation to maintain the structural integrity of the bridge. The county argues that the Borough of Hawthorne is responsible for routine maintenance, such as snow removal. The cause of the accident is presently under investigation. The bridge was not designed to carry the weight of any motor vehicle, and it had no posted weight limit. The condition of the bridge deck at the spot where the Bobcat fell through is at present unknown.
This is an unusual incident, but it shows how certain vehicles are not permitted to be on certain roadways, due to weight restrictions or other reasons. Determining liability in motor vehicle accidents where a public entity is involved can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Once the responsible parties are identified, it may be possible for the accident victims to pursue the compensation they deserve.