A single-car crash allegedly occurred as a result of an improperly-repaired bridge.
Plaintiffs, who were injured, found out about the alleged road defect after their daughter-in-law, who arrived on scene, spoke with members of the state department of transportation. Although unauthorized by their employer to speak on the issue, the state workers reportedly informed the daughter-in-law their office was advised of an issue earlier that day. They indicated she might want to take photographs of the two metal plates sticking up in the roadway.
It was those two, criss-crossed plates that allegedly caught the undercarriage of plaintiffs’ vehicle as they passed over the bridge, causing the driver to lose control and spin out.
Now, the Mississippi Supreme Court has cemented their right to pursue damages against the state department of transportation – responsible for overseeing the repairs – on claims of failure-to-maintain and failure to warn.
The facts of the case, Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transp., began when the couple approached the bridge and proceeded, seeing no warning sign of any problem or potential danger. Both lanes were open and clear.
But suddenly, the undercarriage caught on those metal plates, which were sticking straight up from the road. That’s what caused the car accident, they would later say.
Routinely when bridges undergo structural repairs, flat metal plates are bolted onto the bridge decks temporarily, long enough to cover fresh concrete as it cures. These extend no more than two inches above the regular surface, and again, they are flat.
But in this case, plaintiffs alleged the plates weren’t properly installed on the bridge, causing both to bend upward and creating a dangerous condition on the road surface. They filed a lawsuit.
Defendants – the department of transportation and the contractor that completed the work – moved for summary judgment asserting immunity because maintenance of the bridge was a discretionary function, as opposed to a ministerial one.
A discretionary function is one that involves the duty of a government employee in which some level of discretion is involved. There are a few exceptions, but generally, governments are shielded from accountability for injuries that result from discretionary actions by government employees – even when that discretion is erroneous or abused. Ministerial functions, meanwhile, are those performed according to the legal authority of the government without any exercise of discretion by the employee. In these cases, individuals may pursue damages from the government.
Defense also asserted, with regard to the failure-to-warn claim, there was no evidence beyond the daughter-in-law’s testimony – which they characterized as hearsay – that DOT had notice of a problem because the two workers weren’t authorized to speak to the daughter-in-law. Trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to defense.
On appeal, the appellate court reversed with regard to the failure-to-maintain claim, finding repair of a bridge is indeed a ministerial function. However, it affirmed on the failure-to-warn issue.
On another appeal to the state supreme court, the high court ruled plaintiffs should be allowed to assert both claims. The fact that DOT officials weren’t authorized by their employer to speak to the daughter-in-law did not render her testimony impermissible.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transp., Sept. 10, 2015, Mississippi Supreme Court
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