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City Retains Immunity in Catastrophic Injury Motorcycle Crash Case

The conservator of a woman catastrophically injured as a passenger in a motorcycle crash was unsuccessful in a bid to hold accountable a city government for alleged negligent failure to maintain a road, which she claimed was a causal factor in the crash. 

The City of Denver, CO, defendant in this action, argued entitlement to government immunity. Plaintiff countered the facts of this case allowed for exception to governmental immunity because the road was in unreasonably dangerous condition, which posed an unreasonable risk to the health and safety of the public. The trial court disagreed, granting summary judgment to the defense. The appellate court reversed, but then the Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s summary judgment.

Plaintiff hasn’t walked away completely empty-handed, though. She settled her claim against the other driver without litigation and with the operator of the motorcycle prior to trial. This premises liability claim against the city was the only one still pending. 

Rules about governmental immunity can vary from state-to-state, and complicate matters in an injury lawsuit. Government agencies in Florida can be held liable for failing to keep the roads in safe condition when those hazards contribute causally to a crash, but it’s imperative you trust your case to an experienced car accident attorney.

Here, plaintiff was seated on the rear of a motorcycle moving toward an intersection when a driver traveling in the opposite direction suddenly and without warning turned left, cutting off the motorcycle. The operator of the motorcycle tried to brake, but couldn’t stop in time and smashed into the car. Plaintiff was thrown from the motorcycle, landing on the pavement head-first, causing her to suffer permanent and severe brain injuries.

At a hearing to determine whether the city would be granted immunity in the motorcycle accident lawsuit, the city’s pavement engineer took the stand and explained the city always immediately repaired a road if there was a condition (sinkhole, lip, pothole, etc.) that could cause damage to a vehicle or force a driver to make an unnatural movement to avoid it. In figuring out which roads were in need of repair, the city had a rating system that went from excellent to very poor. These were not supposed to be indications of how safe the road was, but rather to help the city ascertain what the repair and maintenance priorities were.

This particular road had been rated “very poor” little more than a week before this crash. The city had received a 311 complaint about the road’s condition, prompting an inspection that determined the road was cracked, warn and somewhat rutted, but did not require a repair immediately. The engineer testified that while the intersection was dangerous, it was not so dangerous that it needed to be fixed right away.

The trial court held the city was immune from the lawsuit because plaintiff failed to produce any evidence (either in exhibit or witness) indicating this dangerous condition posed a risk to public health or safety that was unreasonable. That was required in order to assert an immunity exception.

The appellate court, in unanimous agreement, reversed, holding it was an error of fact that the record didn’t contain evidence of an unreasonable risk. The appellate court justices held a road is considered an unreasonable risk when it’s shown the government failed to restore a damaged street to the same state of efficiency as when it was initially constructed.

The state supreme court reversed. The burden of proof here was on the plaintiff, but even in the light most favorable to her on appeal, the court held the evidence she presented was insufficient to prove the city was not entitled to immunity.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

City & Cty. of Denver v. Dennis ex. rel. Heyboer, May 21, 2018, Colorado Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Court Favors Plaintiff in Crash Lawsuit Involving Emergency Vehicle, May 18, 2018, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Attorney Blog

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