Many roadway accidents are precipitated by the poor decisions of the people operating the vehicles. However in some cases, it’s the design of the road or some feature of it that makes it dangerous.
n these cases, the entity responsible for maintaining it – usually the state or local government – may be liable for damages. These cases can be complex because, to start, every claim against a government agency is going to require overcoming certain legal hurdles. The biggest of these is usually sovereign immunity, which requires showing the government action that led to the issue was ministerial rather than discretionary (i.e., the government worker didn’t have discretion in carrying out the action).
This was one of the issues raised in Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transp., before the Mississippi Supreme Court. Although this is an out-of-state case, many of the same principles are applicable to similar cases here in Florida.
According to court records, this was a negligence action that arose out of a single-car crash that plaintiffs allege was caused by an improper bridge repair.
A husband and wife were driving south on a highway, approaching a bridge. Both lanes of the bridge were open, and there were no warning signs or any other indication that the bridge was unsafe. However, as they crossed, the husband, who was operating the passenger vehicle, suddenly spun out-of-control.
It was later revealed that two metal plates were protruding out of the ground, and caught the undercarriage of the vehicle. Neither the driver nor his wife realized this, but their daughter-in-law, who responded to the scene as they were being loaded into an ambulance, spoke with two employees of the state department of transportation. Those workers reportedly informed her of the protruding plates, pointed them out to her and noted they had received a call earlier that day, warning of the issue. They advised if it were them, they would take some photographs for future evidence. She did.
Later, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit alleging the department of transportation and the company contracted to do the bridge repair work had acted negligently in the placing those plates improperly, and also for failing to warn motorists of the danger that could result in an auto accident.
State responded that first, it was protected under the principle of sovereign immunity because the repair of the bridge was discretionary. The crews, they said, had discretion about the way in which the bridge should be repaired, and even if it was done wrongly, this fact protected the state from liability. Secondly, it responded that there was no proof the state knew about the peril to motorists. This was a key point because knowledge of a danger is critical to show the agency owed a duty to warn drivers about it. The state argued that because the DOT workers didn’t have authorization or authority to speak to the daughter-in-law about the road condition, her testimony was hearsay.
Trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to defendants. However, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed. That court held that bridge repair was indeed a ministerial function of government, so defendants weren’t entitled to sovereign immunity on that point. Further, justices ruled it didn’t matter whether the DOT workers were allowed by their supervisor to speak to the daughter-in-law. Her testimony was still valid, and there was no acceptable argument brought forth by defendants as to why it shouldn’t be.
Thus, the trial court’s summary judgment was reversed and the case was remanded back to the lower court for trial.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transp., Sept. 10, 2015, Mississippi Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Multiple-Fatality Crashes Across Florida in Recent Weeks, Sept. 14, 2015, Fort Myers Car Accident Lawyer Blog