Supreme Court Extends Immunity for Losses Caused By Temporary Weather

On January 27, 2010, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the period of time that the immunity for loses caused by temporary weather lasts is “at least until the weather condition has stabilized”. The high court also held that during this time period, the governmental unit is immunized for liability for alleged flaws in its remedial steps. In the case of Bules v. Marshall County, 2010 LEXIS 62, Robert Bules and his son Brian were injured in a single truck crash when Robert drove into high water on a road and lost control of his truck. Robert and Brain sued Marshall County alleging negligent warning of the dangerous road conditions. There was a sign placed close to the water on the road. Robert claims that the sign was too close to the hazard to make a difference. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the county. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court. The Supreme Court granted transfer.

Justice Boehm, in writing for the Court, indicated that the statute in question, I.C. 34-13-3-3(3), [“A governmental entity or an employee acting within the scope of the employer’s employment is not liable if a loss results from: (3) The temporary condition of a public thoroughfare. . .that results from weather.”] requires that the loss result from a condition that is both “temporary” and “caused by weather.” The Court noted that during the time that the government is in the process of responding to a weather condition, this immunity “extends to all claims caused by that condition during the period of reasonable response, whether the alleged injury occurred early or late in the response.”

The Court found that there was no issue that the water on the road was caused by weather. It allowed, however, that there was a closer question about whether the road/water condition was temporary or had stabilized. The Court found that the since the water was still rising, the condition had not yet stabilized and was therefore still temporary. The Court found that the County attempted to address the flooding at the road site. Importantly, the Court found that the period of reasonable response “lasts at least until the condition stops worsening, in this case when the Yellow River crested.” As a consequence, the Court held that because the accident occurred during this period, immunity applies, regardless of the inadequacies in the County’s initial responses at the crash site.

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