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County not responsible for car accident caused by negligence, court rules

An interesting ruling has been issued from a Wisconsin appeals court involving car accident liability by county employees. The decision comes after a lawsuit filed by two people claiming a flagger directing traffic was negligent in his duties and caused an accident leading to injuries and property damage. They sued because of the car accident and the suit has been tied up in litigation until recently.

The flagger was attempting to control traffic flow in a construction zone when the flagger motioned the plaintiffs through an intersection. Their car was struck by another vehicle that was traveling south in the same intersection. They accused the flagger of negligence and claimed the county was responsible for the damages. The circuit judge involved in the case granted summary judgment to the county, citing governmental immunity.

Although plaintiffs argued that there were exceptions that could potentially defeat the immunity claim, the appeals court upheld the circuit court’s judgment. The court’s judgment stated that immunity also extended to discretion and judgment used by county officials. The plaintiffs again argued that the act of traffic control was not protected by governmental immunity because it involved ministerial duties but that argument was rejected as well.

Ultimately, the Wisconsin appeals court ruled that even if a county employee had been negligent while in the process of directing traffic in a construction zone and a car accident results, it does not automatically mean the county is liable for any damages or injuries sustained. This ruling could be cause for concern for drivers who are motioned through intersections by flaggers. It would be prudent to still use caution while proceeding in a construction zone, even if it appears a flagger is motioning that the area is clear.

Nevertheless, a car accident occurred and injuries resulted. While the court’s ruling means that no recovery can be had against the governmental body because of sovereign immunity, it does not ban recovery against any other party whose negligence caused or contributed to the accident. Thus, based on a review of all of the facts and circumstances leading to the collision, those seriously injured may pursue claims against other parties based on negligence claims, particularly in view of the fact that the accident occurred in a construction zone where all motorists are typically required to proceed with caution concerning others in or near the roadway.

Source: State Bar of Wisconsin, “County immune from liability for car accident involving road construction flagger,” Joe Forward, April 17, 2012

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