Friday, October 7, 2011

Does a police officer owe a duty to warn citizens of a icy road?

In Putnam County Sheriff v. Pamela Price, No. 60S01-1012-CV-665, the high court concluded that the sheriff’s department didn’t owe a duty to alleviate or warn motorists of an icy or hazardous condition on a county roadway. Citing Benton v. City of Oakland City, 721 N.E.2d 224, 230 (Ind. 1999), on which Price relies to support her negligence claim, the justices noted implicit in that case was that the governmental entity maintained and controlled the property giving rise to the injury. Price doesn’t allege that the sheriff owned, operated or controlled any portion of the county road, and absent this ownership or control, the sheriff had no duty to warn of a hazardous condition, wrote Justice Robert Rucker.

Justice Steven David wrote a concurring opinion, in which Justice Brent Dickson joined, because he was concerned the majority’s decision could be interpreted too broadly. He wrote of a scenario where a sheriff may discover a bridge had been washed away and failed to do anything. In that scenario, a sheriff may have a duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care by warning the highway department and remaining on the scene until assistance arrives.

“… I concur in the outcome of this particular case but am hesitant for the subsequent application of this holding that the sheriff can escape any liability on the basis of non-maintenance and control of the county roadway,” he wrote. 

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