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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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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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