Justices rule in favor of county

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Elkhart County is immune from losses resulting from temporary weather-related road conditions in 2001, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

The 4-1 decision came in Marvin Hochstetler v. Elkhart Co. Highway Dept., et al., 20S05-0703-CV-97, a case it heard arguments in May 10. The case involved a motorcycle driver, Hochstetler, who struck a fallen tree on a county road after a storm and sued the county departments and officials for negligence. The Elkhart Superior Court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants, but the Court of Appeals reversed in October after concluding the material issues of fact remain as to whether the county is immune under the Indiana Tort Claims Act. That provides governmental defendants immunity from liability if the loss resulted from a temporary condition of a public thoroughfare resulting from weather.

However, the Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer and wrote that the condition was temporary and the county was therefore immune from these types of suits.

"There might well be a case in which weather-related conditions remained unintended for so long a period that it no longer qualified as 'temporary,' Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote. "This is not that case."

Justice Brent Dickson dissented, writing that genuine issues of fact remained "whether the hazard was temporary and whether its efficient cause was weather or the government's failure to monitor and maintain its roads with reasonable care."

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