ILNews

Deputy owed no duty to warn of icy road

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A county sheriff’s department that doesn’t own, maintain or control a county road does not owe a common law duty to warn the public of known hazardous conditions upon the roadway, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Pamela Price filed a negligence action against the Putnam County Sheriff's Department, Putnam County Highway Department, County Board of Commissioners, and the Reelsville Water Authority following an auto accident involving personal injury and property damage. Price lost control of her car after hitting ice on the same part of the road where earlier in the morning, another motorist lost control. A waterline leak caused water to run on the roadway and freeze. A sheriff’s deputy responded to the first accident, contacted the highway department regarding the road condition and left the area.

The trial court denied the sheriff’s department’s motion to dismiss under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6), which the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed on interlocutory appeal. The justices reversed, focusing on the issue of whether the sheriff owed a duty to warn motorists of the road conditions.

In Putnam County Sheriff v. Pamela Price, No. 60S01-1012-CV-665, the high court concluded that the sheriff’s department didn’t owe a duty to alleviate or warn motorists of an icy or hazardous condition on a county roadway. Citing Benton v. City of Oakland City, 721 N.E.2d 224, 230 (Ind. 1999), on which Price relies to support her negligence claim, the justices noted implicit in that case was that the governmental entity maintained and controlled the property giving rise to the injury. Price doesn’t allege that the sheriff owned, operated or controlled any portion of the county road, and absent this ownership or control, the sheriff had no duty to warn of a hazardous condition, wrote Justice Robert Rucker.

Justice Steven David wrote a concurring opinion, in which Justice Brent Dickson joined, because he was concerned the majority’s decision could be interpreted too broadly. He wrote of a scenario where a sheriff may discover a bridge had been washed away and failed to do anything. In that scenario, a sheriff may have a duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care by warning the highway department and remaining on the scene until assistance arrives.

“… I concur in the outcome of this particular case but am hesitant for the subsequent application of this holding that the sheriff can escape any liability on the basis of non-maintenance and control of the county roadway,” he wrote.  

The high court ordered the trial court to grant the sheriff’s department’s motion.

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  1. Such things are no more elections than those in the late, unlamented Soviet Union.

  2. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  3. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  4. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  5. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

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