COA: INDOT immune from liability in woman’s traffic death at Hendricks Co. intersection

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The Indiana Department of Transportation is immune from liability in a case involving a woman killed in a collision at an intersection, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed.

In October 2019, Josephine Cranfill was a front seat passenger in a vehicle traveling east on County Road 1000 North in Hendricks County. The driver stopped at a stop sign at an intersection with State Road 267.

While traffic on County Road 1000 North was required to stop, traffic on S.R. 167 was not.

When the driver attempted to cross the road, his vehicle was struck by another driver’s vehicle, which was traveling north. That vehicle struck the passenger side of the car Josephine was in, killing her.

INDOT had been aware of a history of “right angle crashes” at that intersection since about 2014, and it installed additional signage at the intersection, including oversized stop signs and reflective strips.

There were additional concerns during the summer of 2019 because Interstate 65 was closed and traffic was routed to S.R. 267.

At the time of the collision, the speed limit on S.R. 267 was 55 miles per hour. Shortly after the collision, the department reduced the speed limit to 45 mph until a traffic signal was installed in October 2020.

In October 2019, Matthew Cranfill, personal representative of the Estate of Josephine Cranfill, filed a complaint against the department and others, which he amended in April 2020.

Cranfill brought a wrongful death action against INDOT and alleged negligence via the department’s failure to maintain the intersection of S.R. 267 and County Road 1000 North in a reasonably safe condition. The department filed an answer and affirmative defenses and alleged, in part, that it was immune from liability pursuant to Indiana Code Chapter 34-13-3, the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

In June 2022, Cranfill filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing the department’s discretionary function immunity defense was inapplicable.

The department also moved for partial summary judgment, arguing it was immune under the discretionary function provision of I.C. 34-13-3-3(a)(7) and the adoption-of-laws provision of I.C. 34-13-3-3(a)(8) from Cranfill’s claim that it was negligent in failing to reduce the speed limit. The department also argued it was immune under I.C. 34-13-3-3(a)(18) from Cranfill’s claim that it was negligent in the design of S.R. 267.

The Putnam Circuit Court granted partial summary judgment to INDOT in August 2022, finding it was entitled to immunity under the adoption-of-laws and discretionary function provisions.

The department then filed a motion for entry of final judgment, arguing the immunity finding was a complete bar to Cranfill’s action. The trial court agreed and entered final judgment in favor of the department on Aug. 23, 2022.

Cranfill appealed, arguing the trial court erred by finding INDOT was entitled to immunity. Cranfill maintained the immunity provision didn’t apply because the department knew about a dangerous condition at the intersection and had ample opportunity to respond.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding the department is immune because its failure to lower the speed limit involved the “adoption and enforcement of or failure to adopt or enforce” a rule and/or regulation as cited in Indiana law.

In disagreeing with Cranfill’s argument, the court cited Indiana law that says the department has statutory authority to “alter” maximum speed limits.

The appellate court cited also a previous case — Holiday Rambler Corp. v. Gessinger, 541 N.E.2d 559 (Ind. Ct. App. 1989) — in which the court found the state was immune from liability for failing to reduce the posted maximum speed limit. The COA noted it has reached similar results in the context of other governmental entities.

Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote the opinion. Judges Nancy Vaidik and Peter Foley concurred.

The case is Matthew G. Cranfill, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Josephine F. Cranfill, Deceased v. State of Indiana Department of Transportation, 22A-CT-2062.

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