Motion to Dismiss granted to Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission
PS Partners/Associate: J. Phillip Bryant, Partner
We represented: Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission (MHTC)
Venue: Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri
Personal injury lawsuit in which Plaintiffs Yvonne Marshall, Ricky Tyberendt, and Steven Chott claim they were injured on February 23, 2011 when they were involved in a 37 car pileup on eastbound Interstate 64 near the Market Street exit. According to their Petitions and the police report from the incident, a freezing rain fell in the early morning hours of February 23, 2011 covering the Vandeventer Ave. bridge with ice from the freezing rain. It is alleged that Robert Luzynski was operating a truck in the course of his employment with United Parcel Service, Inc. (“UPS”) when he lost control of his truck, blocking the eastbound lanes of I-64. This set off a chain reaction with numerous other vehicles colliding into the UPS truck as well as into those vehicles operated by individual motorists already involved in the collision.
After much discovery occurred, Ricky Tyberendt, Steven Chott and Yvonne Marshall joined MHTC as a defendant in their lawsuits alleging that a dangerous condition existed because the road allegedly lacked proper skid resistance and/or was unreasonably slick. They further claimed that MHTC had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition caused by the freezing rain, which allegedly occurred hours prior to the accidents, but that MHTC failed to take measures to protect against this condition. Specifically, these plaintiffs claimed that MHTC failed to obtain an accurate or reliable weather forecast, failed to treat the roads with de-icing agents, and failed to notify traffic of the slick conditions.
We moved to dismiss MHTC on the argument that MHTC is protected by sovereign immunity on the plaintiffs’ claims against it. Specifically, we argued that plaintiffs’ allegation that MHTC failed to obtain a weather forecast does not trigger a waiver of sovereign immunity. Nor did plaintiffs’ complaint that MHTC failed to de-ice the road. Similarly, the alleged failure to warn motorists of slick road conditions was insufficient to trigger a waiver of sovereign immunity. Plaintiffs countered that the alleged failures by MHTC arose out of a condition of the property, thereby triggering a waiver of sovereign immunity. Judge Dierker agreed that MHTC is under a duty to maintain the roadway so that it is safe for drivers. However, the duty to remedy an icy condition depends upon pleading and proof that the condition was not common to the area in general at the time of the injury and that, considering the scope of the roadways under the defendant’s control, there was ample advance notice of the particular condition to permit the defendant to remedy it. Judge Dierker noted that the pleadings are bereft of allegations showing that the hazard on the roadway was different than the hazard posed by freezing rain anywhere else in the area. The allegation that MHTC had notice of freezing rain in the vicinity of the accident site some hours before the accident is patently insufficient to afford MHTC time to protect against the specific hazard existing at the site of the accident.