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Florida targeted by lawsuit after motorcycle hits panther

A 57-year-old man has sued the state of Florida after he collided with a panther on his motorcycle, claiming the state's wildlife warning system is not effectively preventing traffic accidents involving animals. The Florida Department of Transportation installed the system along a 1.3-mile stretch of road in order to protect endangered wildlife as well as motorists. Experts say the small but growing Florida panther population has been forced to expand into populated areas, causing an increase in collisions.

The plaintiff sustained a severe head injury from the crash when his motorcycle struck a panther that had entered the roadway, causing him to skid down the road. The man also sustained fractures to his shoulder, collarbone and ribs. The lawsuit names the Florida DOT and TransCore, the company contracted to install the warning system, as defendants.

The wildlife warning system works by flashing lights at passing drivers when its sensors detect movement from animals, but the plaintiff argues that the system failed to alert him to the panther. Soon after the system was unveiled in January, the system stopped working when tall grass and weeds blocked the sensors. The plaintiff has questioned whether the device ever functioned correctly at all. Both the Florida DOT and TransCore have declined to comment on the case.

A panther expert with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has raised concerns about the effectiveness of the warning system, questioning whether it works properly given the road's narrow shoulders. His sentiments were echoed by the owner of a campground near the monitored section of roadway, who claimed that many sensors are not positioned to detect panthers crossing the roadway or warn motorists in time for them to avoid a collision. He said the system has been plagued with problems since its unveiling.

Source: Standard-Examiner, "Biker hits panther, sues state," Eric Staats, Sep. 27, 2012

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