An Iowa Supreme Court decision could make it more difficult for citizens to hold city, county and state officials responsible for injuries caused by road maintenance issues. The court, in a June 8 ruling, said a northern Iowa woman cannot sue Humboldt County for their failure to remove a concrete wall installed by a farmer in a roadside ditch to prevent cows from escaping.
Kaitlyn Johnson, 28, was injured in March 2013 when the pickup truck she was riding in left the road and struck the concrete structure after her husband, the driver, reportedly fell asleep. She suffered paralysis, a brain injury and multiple broken bones. She sued the farmer for installing the concrete and the county for failing to remove.
A judge dismissed her lawsuit against the county saying a controversial public-duty doctrine protects the county from legal responsibility under the circumstances of the accident. However, many consider this doctrine an outdated legal concept. In fact, similar policies have been abandoned or replaced in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and eight other states.
Justice Edward Mansfield, who supported the ruling, said “We believe the limited resources of governmental entities — combined with the many demands on those entities — provide a sound justification for the public-duty doctrine. Cities, counties, and the state have to balance numerous competing public priorities, all of which may be important to the general health, safety, and welfare. This does not mean the same no-duty rule would protect that entity when it affirmatively acts and does so negligently.”
While Johnson’s lawsuit against the farmer had been put on hold until the court ruled on her appeal, she can now proceed with her case. The concrete barrier was removed after Johnson’s lawsuit was filed.
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