Political Subdivisions Liable For Auto Accident Resulting From Corn Mash on Roadway.

The plaintiffs, a married couple, were injured in an auto accident when the wife lost control of the couple's vehicle in a rural area when the vehicle came into contact with corn mash (a byproduct of ethanol production) that had spilled from a truck onto a roadway the day before.  During the day before the accident, a state trooper was working a traffic stop in the area when he saw the mash spilling from the truck owned by the private party defendant.  The officer completed his traffic stop and then closed the lane of the road in question.  The local rural fire department responded to the spill and moved it onto the unpaved shoulder and into the ditch.  The truck owner was not required to assist with the cleanup and was issued a citation after the cleanup was complete, with the roadway then reopened.  As noted, the accident occurred the next day when the corn mash migrated back onto the traveled portion of the roadway.  Eyewitness testimony noted that the plaintiffs' vehicle contacted the mash before losing control and sliding off the roadway.  The trial court held that the political subdivisions (local town, county and rural fire department) were immune from liability under state law, and also held that the truck owner owed the plaintiffs no duty because any duty they owed the plaintiffs had been extinguished when the officer deemed the roadway safe and reopened it.  On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court as to the grant of summary judgment to the truck owner because the truck owner did not owe any duty to the plaintiffs on account of the roadway being deemed safe for vehicular travel and the authorities had been actively engaged in removing the obstruction.  However, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment to the political subdivisions.  The court reasoned that there was a single incident("spot or localized defect) of spillage of corn mash and that the migration back to the roadway from the shoulder was not a separate incident.  Thus, the political subdivisions were on notice of the incident and had reasonable time to correct the problem and had waived their sovereign immunity under Neb. Rev. Stat. 13-910(12).  Kimminau v. City of Hastings, et al., 291 Neb. 133 (2015).          

CALT does not provide legal advice. Any information provided on this website is not intended to be a substitute for legal services from a competent professional. CALT's work is supported by fee-based seminars and generous private gifts. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material contained on this website do not necessarily reflect the views of Iowa State University.

RSS​ Facebook Twitter