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Torn Achilles tendon is not city’s fault, COA rules

December 31, 2013

A state statute providing immunity to municipalities for 20-year-old public work projects absolved a southern Indiana city from liability for an injury a man incurred when he stepped off a curb and into a sewer drain.

Brad Haskin was visiting the city of Madison for the Madison Regatta. While returning to his rental cottage one evening, he walked between the curb and a parked vehicle, stepped into a trough-shaped gutter and ruptured his Achilles tendon.

Haskin filed a complaint for damages against the city, alleging the municipality was negligent in designing, constructing and maintaining the drain. He also claimed the city failed to warn pedestrians of the potential hazard.

The trial court granted the city’s motion for summary judgment.

Before the Indiana Court of Appeals, the city of Madison argued it had immunity under Indiana Code 34-13-3-3(18), which protects municipalities from liability if the injury occurs at least 20 years after the public work was substantially redesigned. The city also noted the gutter was in good condition and Haskin’s injury was not caused by any deterioration in the drain.
 
Haskin countered that even under the Indiana statute, a governmental entity has a duty to provide public roadways in a reasonably safe condition. In addition, although the city had a lease agreement with Madison Regatta Inc., the city still had control over the street.

“To the extent Haskin claims the City was negligent in the design of the sewer drain and the City had a duty with respect to that claim, we agree with the City that, pursuant to Ind. Code 34-13-3-3-(18), the City was not required to ensure that the design of the curb and sewer drain, which were designed or redesigned at least twenty years prior to Haskin’s injury and were not altered by any resurfacing in 2002, was consistent with current practice or safety standards,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote in Brad Haskin v. City of Madison, Indiana, 39A05-1308-CT-422. “The City was not required to redesign the sewer drain in an effort to incorporate ever-evolving technology.”

The Court of Appeals also found under the terms of a resolution of the Board of Public Works and Safety of the city adopted June 18, 2008, and the lease agreement, Madison Regatta Inc. did have control of the street. The Regatta organization was in the best position to control pedestrian traffic and the condition of the property it leased from the city.  

 

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