State Supreme Court Denies Governmental Immunity for Transportation Commission in Wrongful Death Claim

The Supreme Court of Mississippi recently released a decision upholding a trial court’s denial of the state transportation commission’s request for sovereign immunity from a wrongful death claim brought on behalf of a motorcyclist who was allegedly killed because of unsafe conditions on a roadway operated by the defendant. The state supreme court ultimately rejected the defendant’s argument that roadway maintenance during construction is a discretionary function, which would protect the state from liability in the event that the negligence of state employees caused unsafe road conditions that resulted in the accident. Based on the high court’s ruling, the family of the deceased motorcyclist may be compensated by the state for their loss.

Red MotorcycleThe Plaintiff Dies after Losing Control of His Motorcycle in a Construction Zone on the Interstate

The case of Adams v. The Mississippi Transportation Commission was filed by the surviving family members of a man who died after he lost control of his motorcycle while changing lanes on the highway. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the accident occurred in a construction zone with an uneven surface between two of the lanes. After the accident, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death complaint and sought damages from the government, alleging that the Transportation Commission was negligent by failing to comply with relevant construction standards, failing to correctly use traffic control devices, failing to place necessary warnings on the roadway, and creating an unreasonably dangerous condition with a reckless disregard for the safety of the public.

The State’s Claim of Sovereign Immunity is Rejected

In response to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the defendant claimed that they were immune from liability for the man’s death, arguing that under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act the government cannot be held accountable for the negligence of employees or subcontractors who are performing discretionary functions. The plaintiff responded that the road construction at issue was not a discretionary function and needed to be completed in accordance with standards and procedures that had been breached, therefore voiding the government’s immunity. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, resulting in their appeal to the state high court.

The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s decision, acknowledging that the state has maintained immunity for employees’ negligence while performing discretionary duties but finding the road construction at issue was not a discretionary duty. The court reasoned that the state department of transportation developed rules and regulations that have the power of law, and the state was responsible for ensuring that road construction contracted by the state was performed within those guidelines. As a result of the appellate decision, the case will return to the trial court to proceed toward a settlement or trial.

Sovereign Immunity for Unsafe Road Conditions in New Mexico

Like Mississippi, New Mexico has passed laws governing when and how the government can be sued for negligence, but unlike Mississippi, New Mexico’s laws are not based on a distinction between discretionary and ministerial duties. New Mexico Statutes Section 41-4-11 discusses the state’s waiver of sovereign immunity for claims related to highway and street conditions.

According to the statute, a state or municipality may be held accountable for damages caused by the negligence of public employees who are acting within the scope of their duties during the construction and maintenance of streets, highways, bridges, sidewalks, and public parking areas. The statute notes some exceptions under which the government maintains their immunity. Specifically, the government cannot be sued for damages resulting from a defect in the plan or design of a roadway feature, they cannot be sued for failing to construct or reconstruct a damaged or absent roadway feature, and they cannot be sued for failing to adhere to accepted construction standards when extraordinary circumstances warrant such a deviation, and it has been approved by the governing authority. A knowledgeable New Mexico accident attorney should be able to determine whether an accident victim has a possible claim against the government for injuries or death related to unsafe road conditions.

Have You Been Injured in an Accident?

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a New Mexico car or motorcycle accident, whether it was the result of unsafe road conditions or the actions of a negligent driver, you may be entitled to compensation from the parties responsible for your loss. The skilled and experienced New Mexico personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the Fine Law Firm can help you seek the damages award that you deserve. Our dedicated New Mexico accident lawyers are familiar with the correct procedures to hold both private parties and municipal or state agencies responsible for the negligence of their employees or themselves, and we can help you make a convincing claim for compensation. Call the Fine Law Firm today at (585) 989-3463 or sign up online to schedule a no-obligation consultation with a hard-working New Mexico negligence attorney.

More Blog Posts:

Foreseeability as an Element of a New Mexico Negligence Claim, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, June 3, 2016.

State Court Finds Plaintiff Was Not Entitled to a New Trial in Lawsuit over Medical Expenses, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2016.