SW Legal studies in Business

County Road Supervisor Could Be Personally Liable for Failure to Maintain Roads Properly
Description

Appeals court held that the estate of a motorist, who was killed in an accident that was blamed on poor the placement of a stop sign, could proceed with a private cause of action for negligence against the county road supervisor who is charged by state law with such matters as proper sign placement. The supervisor is not protected by sovereign immunity as is his employer, the county.

Topic Torts
Key Words Sovereign Immunity; Personal Liability
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Billy Don Ezell was killed when he ran a stop sign in Christian County, Kentucky, and hit another vehicle. David Ezell, the administrator of the estate, sued the county and Chuck Chambers, the county road supervisor, for negligence because the stop sign at the intersection was not placed in conformance with Kentucky law-it was blocked from view by bushes. The trial court granted the county and Chambers summary judgment on the grounds of sovereign immunity. Ezell appealed.
Decision Affirmed in part; reversed in part. Under Kentucky law, Christian County has sovereign immunity and cannot be sued. However, Chambers, the road supervisor, is subject to a private right of action against him for violation of a Kentucky statute that establishes the extent of his duties. Regarding roads, state law says that the county engineer shall, among other things, "Remove trees or other obstacles from the right-of-way of any publicly dedicated road when the tree or other obstacles become a hazard to traffic." That is the basis of the claim here. Another Kentucky statute states "A person injured by the violation of any statute may recover from the offender such damages as he sustained by reason of the violation...." Chambers cannot avoid the possibility of liability simply by saying that he hires employees to take care of the roads. He is charged by state law with ensuring road safety and making sure his duties are properly performed. The suit against Chambers may proceed.
Citation Ezell v. Christian County, Kentucky, 245 F.3d 853 (6th Cir., 2001)

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