COA: Lack of warning signs reinstates suit in fatal crash

The Indiana Court of Appeals found the Hancock County Board of Commissioners was not liable for the way an intersection was designed but found there was an issue of material fact as to whether the county should have installed warning signs there. A man was killed at the intersection in 2009 in a crash with another vehicle, triggering a lawsuit.

Phillip Jones was driving a truck on County Road 400 West when he struck a car driven by 17-year-old Jacqueline Thomas on County Road 200 North. Jones died as a result of the crash. Drivers on 400 West weren’t required to stop at the intersection, but those on but 200 North were. Thomas had crept up a little bit in the intersection to see if drivers were coming before her car was hit by Jones, who died in the crash.

Nikki Jones filed a wrongful death suit against the Hancock County Board of Commissioners representing her son, alleging the board and highway department owed a duty to protect the users of Hancock County roadways form dangerous conditions. The suit claimed the board did not monitor accidents at the intersection and breached its duty by not installing an alternative traffic control device there. The board said it was immune under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, especially Indiana Code 34-13-3-3(8). The trial court granted summary judgment for the board, saying it was immune from liability for failure to adopt an ordinance changing the traffic control devices and for the design of the roads.

In an opinion written by Judge Elaine Brown, the COA agreed that the board was not liable for design of the intersection. An ordinance was adopted in 1992 which provided CR 400 was a preferential through road where it intersected 200N. Because Indiana Code 34-13-3-3-3(8) says “A governmental entity or an employee acting within the scope of the employee’s employment is not liable if a loss results from the following: The adoption and enforcement of or failure to adopt or enforce a law unless the act of enforcement constitutes false arrest or false imprisonment,” the COA upheld the ruling that the board was exempt.

However, the COA did find summary judgment was inappropriate when it came to the installation of warning signs. The board did not ask for summary judgment on this issue and could have installed warning signs because those are not required to go through a legislative process before being installed. The COA remanded this part of the decision the trial court for further proceedings.

The case is Nikki Jones, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Phillip Matthew Jones v. Hancock County Board of Commissioners, 30A01-1506-CT-543.

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