ILNews

County immunity in weather-related accident

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The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment for a county sued as a result of a weather-related accident, holding government liability immunity in steps taken as a result of the weather lasts until at least the weather condition has stabilized.

Robert Bules and his son Brian sued Marshall County after they were injured when their tractor-trailer crashed after hitting high water in the road. There was a sign at the water's edge noting high water, but Robert didn't see it in time to stop. The Buleses claimed the county was negligent in warning of the dangers of the road's condition. The water in the road was caused by a period of warm weather followed by a drop in temperature into the low teens early on the day of the accident. The weather fluctuation caused a river to flood the road the Buleses traveled on and also caused some icy patches.

The county placed warning signs on the road and salted and sanded; the river reached a historic crest on the day of the accident. There are discrepancies between the parties as to how many signs were located on the road at the time of the accident and the condition of the road in the days prior to the accident.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding the issue of whether the placement of the signs was negligent foreclosed immunity for the county. A governmental entity is immune to liability for breaching its duty to maintain public thoroughfares if a loss results from a temporary condition caused by weather. It's undisputed the flooding and freezing on the roads was caused by a weather event, but at issue in the case is whether the condition was temporary and therefore conferred immunity, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm for the majority in Robert and Brian Bules v. Marshall County, et al., No. 50S03-1001-CV-57.

The county showed the condition continued to worsen in the hours up until the accident - the river didn't even crest until the day of the accident. "The window of reasonable response wherein immunity applies is at a minimum the period of time it takes the condition throughout the affected area to stabilize," wrote the justice.
 
"In this case, after the County attempted to address the flooding and ice at the accident site, the condition continued to worsen into the early morning of the day of the accident. The 'period of reasonable response' lasts at least until the condition stops worsening," wrote Justice Boehm, which in this case would have been when the river crested.

Because the accident happened during this period, immunity applies, regardless of the alleged inadequacies in the county's initial response at the site of the Buleses' accident. The justices also upheld the striking of portions of Robert's affidavit that detailed his opinion as to how the county was negligent and how he would have acted if he had been properly warned of the flooding; and the exclusion of a letter from an insurance agent stating the county accepted liability for the accident. Justice Brent Dickson dissented because he believed the Court of Appeals' ruling was correct.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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