Government immunity is a concept that is present in almost all personal injury cases that name a government entity or employee as a defendant. Even in cases in which the plaintiff ultimately recovers compensation for their injuries after settlement negotiations or a trial, it is likely that the plaintiff had to overcome the issue of government immunity at some point in the lawsuit. Thus, the issue of government immunity is critical for all would-be plaintiffs to understand before filing a lawsuit against a state, local, or federal government agency.
One type of government immunity involves a government’s design of highways, roads, and intersections. This is called design immunity. Design immunity does not cover a government’s failure to properly maintain a road, but instead it covers a government’s decisions on how to construct a road.
In Indiana, governments are generally entitled to immunity regarding their discretionary functions. Arguably, many road construction projects will be deemed discretionary by the courts, eliminating a government’s liability. Regardless, governments are entitled to immunity from any lawsuit stemming from the design of a highway, road, or intersection if the claim arises more than 20 years after the project was constructed. A recent case illustrates how a court may apply design immunity to extinguish an accident victim’s right to recovery.
Gonzales v. City of Atwater
Gonzales was struck and killed by a motorist while crossing the street in an intersection located in Atwater, California. After his death, Gonzales’ loved ones filed a lawsuit against both the driver who struck Gonzales and the City of Atwater. The case went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict against the City of Atwater for $3.2 million. The motorist who struck Gonzales was determined not to be at fault.
On appeal, the City of Atwater claimed that it should be entitled to design immunity because it had commissioned a study on how to safely design the intersection before beginning its construction. The appellate court agreed, noting that the city was reasonable to rely on the third party’s conclusions that the design was safe. The court also determined that the city had a choice on how to proceed with the intersection’s construction, making the decision a discretionary one. Thus, the court held, the city’s discretionary and reasonable decision to construct the intersection in the way that it did could not give rise to liability because the city was entitled to design immunity.
Have You Been Injured in an Indiana Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an Indiana car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation from one or more parties. If a government entity or employee is named in the lawsuit, the issue of government immunity is likely one that you will face. The skilled personal injury attorneys at Parr Richey Obremskey Frandsen & Patterson have decades of collective experience helping their clients seek compensation in cases against both governments and private parties. Call 888-532-7766 to set up a free consultation with an attorney today.
Court Affirms Dismissal of Case Against Truck Driver Who Caused Chain-Reaction Accident, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, December 1, 2016
School Bus Accident Kills Six Students, Police Say Driver Was Likely Speeding, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, December 6, 2016