Family Whose Car Fell Into Sinkhole Sues City of Cleveland and Survives Summary Judgment

The majority of lawsuits arising from Cleveland automobile accidents are filed by one motorist against another. It is not unusual for a careless driver’s employer to also be named as a defendant, if the driver was on the job at the time the crash happened.Municipalities are also legally responsible for the negligence of their employees while operating a city vehicle. Ohio cities like Cleveland or Akron are also responsible for keeping their streets open and in good repair under ORC 2744.02. So when a car accident is caused by a defect or hazard in a roadway, the municipality may be held liable.  Typically, the city or governmental entity seeks to avoid liability by showing that it wasn’t aware of the hazard and was therefore immune from suit under Ohio’s political subdivision immunity laws. But to do so, the City has to raise its defense in a timely fashion.

Did the City know about the Sinkhole?

The plaintiffs in a recent case heard on appeal by the Eighth District Court of Appeals ( Cuyahoga County No. CV-17-880786), were  injured when their car fell into a sinkhole while driving down a Cleveland street in  June 2015. The plaintiffs filed suit in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, seeking monetary compensation for their injuries. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, a water leak had eroded the road’s substrate,  causing a sinkhole to form which then collapsed under the weight of the plaintiffs’ vehicle.

In response to the plaintiffs’ negligence claim against it, the City of Cleveland claimed political subdivision immunity pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2744. The defendant City  later moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it did not negligently create the sinkhole nor did it have either actual or constructive notice of the water main break that allegedly caused the sinkhole. The plaintiffs’ response to the city’s motion for summary judgment asserted that the defendant was aware of a defect in the water main the day before their accident because of a break that occurred at a different location on the same street, yet did not take action to warn drivers of the potentially hazardous condition. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and it appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Eighth District appellate court upheld the lower court’s order denying the City of Cleveland’s motion for summary judgment. According to the court of appeals, there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the City was negligent in failing to maintain the street where the accident happened. In so holding, the court noted that the water main break at the neighboring property happened just 200 feet from – and only 24 hours before – the accident giving rise to the instant case. The Court of Appeals also found that the city had failed to raise its statutory defenses in the lower court and therefore could not raise them in the Court of Appeals.

Talk to a Car Accident Attorney in Cleveland

Regardless of whether the party at fault in a car crash is an individual, business, or governmental entity, the injured party has the burden of proving liability by a preponderance of the evidence. This requires a prompt and thorough investigation of the accident by a qualified professional. If you have been hurt in a Cleveland car crash and need to talk to an attorney about getting started on your claim against the at-fault party, call Rubin Guttman & Associates, L.P.A., today at 216-696-4006 and ask for a free case evaluation.

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