Road Injury Prevention Litigation Journal
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.
February 2, 1998
TranSafety, Inc.
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Indiana County's Intersection Design May Be Negligent Even When It Conformed to Engineering Standards

Following a collision between a semi-tractor trailer and a passenger car in which the driver of the car was killed, the driver's parents and his injured passenger sued Indiana's Montgomery County (County). The suit charged that the intersection of a state road and a County road where the crash occurred was negligently designed. The Montgomery Circuit Court granted the County's motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Indiana found that, although the County had complied with required engineering standards in designing the intersection, issues of material fact remained as to whether the County had breached its duty to exercise reasonable care in designing, constructing, and maintaining its highways. With one dissenting opinion, the appeals court reversed the trial court's summary judgment.

THE COLLISION

Nasir Raghib Salaam drove a semi-tractor trailer northbound on April 9, 1991 on County Road 400 East in Montgomery County, Indiana. William Jason Richardson was westbound on State Road 136. At the intersection of 400 East and State Road 136, Salaam failed to yield at the stop sign and collided with Richardson's car. Richardson died in the crash, and his passenger, Greta A. Harris, received serious injury.

TRIAL COURT DECISION

On December 18, 1992, Richardson's parents, Charles and Judith Richardson, and Harris (collectively Richardsons) filed a complaint against Salaam, Howard Transport, Inc. (the owners of the truck), the Indiana Department of Highways, and the Board of Commissioners of Montgomery County. Their complaint against the County claimed negligent design of the intersection of State Road 136 and County Road 400 East. The complaint asserted that the north side of the intersection had an unreasonably steep grade, encouraging northbound truck drivers to ignore the stop sign so they could have a rolling start up this incline.

On March 4, 1994, Montgomery County filed a motion for summary judgment, maintaining that it was not negligent "as a matter of law." Although the County admitted it had a common law duty "to exercise reasonable care in the design, construction and maintenance of its highways," the County argued that it had not breached this duty. The County stated it had designed the intersection according to the standards of both the Indiana Highway Department and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

The Richardsons filed a counter motion to the summary judgment, arguing "genuine issues of material fact" existed about whether the intersection was "unreasonably dangerous."

The Montgomery Circuit Court granted the County's motion for summary judgment. The trial court ruled that the intersection design was reasonable as a matter of law, since it satisfied the applicable engineering standards of the Indiana Highway Department and AASHTO. The Richardsons appealed.

APPEALS COURT DECISION

The Court of Appeals of Indiana reviewed the trial court's ruling on the summary judgment.

According to Ind.Trial Rule 56(C), "[s]ummary judgment is appropriate only if the designated evidentiary matter shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." In Oelling v. Rao ((1992), Ind., 593 N.E.2d 189, 190), the court ruled that "[t]he burden is on the moving party to prove there are no genuine issues of material fact and he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

Ind.Trial Rule 56(e) states that "[o]nce the movant has sustained this burden, the opponent must respond by setting forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial; he may not simply rest on the allegations of his pleadings."

In Barsz v. Max Shapiro, Inc. ((1992), Ind.App., 600 N.E.2d 151, 152), the court had ruled that "[s]ummary judgment is generally inappropriate in negligence cases."

Since the Richardsons' suit against the County was for negligence, the court pointed out that the plaintiffs had to establish:

  1. a duty on the part of the defendant to conform his conduct to a standard of care arising from his relationship with the plaintiff,

  2. a failure of the defendant to conform his conduct to the requisite standard of care required by the relationship, and

  3. an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach. Webb v. Jarvis (1991), Ind., 575 N.E.2d 992, 995.

The Richardsons argued that, although this intersection design conformed to engineering standards, the County should have foreseen that drivers of large trucks would disregard the stop sign, causing crashes.

The appeals court found it could not agree with the summary judgment. The court stated that an intersection's design is not reasonable "in every instance as a matter of law" solely because it complies with engineering standards. One appellate judge dissented, claiming that "as a matter of law, the intervening illegal act of the truck driver was not a natural consequence of the original act and that summary judgment for Montgomery County is appropriate." The majority opinion maintained:

[G]enuine issues of material fact remain as to whether Montgomery County breached its duty of exercising reasonable care in the design, construction and maintenance of its highways and the trial court erred in granting Montgomery County's motion for summary judgment.

The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment.

[For further reference, see Richardson v. Salaam (Ind.App. 1995) in West Publishing Vol. 653 North Eastern Reporter, 2nd Series, 136]

Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.



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