2011-03-11 / National News

Ala. pays $1M for freak accident that killed S.C. mom

By JAY REEVES Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The state of Alabama has paid $1 million to relatives of a South Carolina mother of two who was killed by a chunk of concrete from a pothole that flew through the windshield of a vehicle on a bumpy, crumbling section of Interstate 20 almost a year ago, officials said Thursday.

The family was paid even though they had never sued the state.

Two state officials confirmed to The Associated Press that the money was paid to compensate for the death of Jo Maureen Fisher in the freak accident, which occurred as the 33- year-old woman was traveling through the state with her husband and two young children on their way home to Goose Creek, S.C. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the settlement.

Following a review, the state's Division of Risk Management made the payment for the Alabama Department of Transportation in a negotiated settlement with the family without any lawsuit or administrative claim being filed. State law limits such payments to a maximum of $1 million.

The state attorney general can approve such settlements when it's obvious a lawsuit is inevitable and there's a "serious risk" of the state losing, one of the officials told AP.

A lawyer for John Fisher, the victim's husband, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

A spokesman for the state transportation agency, Tony Harris, declined comment.

The Fisher family was traveling home toward South Carolina from a wedding in New Orleans last March 15 when their pickup truck neared the Georgia state line on a rough section of I-20. A car traveling in front of their truck hit a pothole, sending a piece of concrete through the truck's windshield on the passenger side, where Jo Maureen Fisher was sitting. The chunk struck the woman in the head, and she died the next day in a hospital in Birmingham.

The piece of roadway passed over the back seat and between two safety seats where the woman's two children were riding. Neither child nor John Fisher, who was driving the truck, was hurt.

State troopers issued no tickets and didn't find anyone at fault, but an accident report concluded that poor road conditions were a factor in Fisher's death. Photos released to the AP by the state showed the pothole already had been repaired at least once before the accident but was crumbling again.

After the accident, the state lowered the speed limit to 55 mph for a lengthy stretch of I-20 east of Birmingham, and the road is still being resurfaced.

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