Ohio Supreme Court Says City Was Not Liable for Foliage That Obscured Stop Sign, Causing Accident

A typical Cleveland car accident lawsuit involves a motorist’s claim that another driver acted negligently, by, for exmple, running a stop sign, speeding or failing to yield the right of way, causing a crash. Sometimes, however, there are other claims against defendants who were not drivers actually involved in the accident.

For example, a recent appellate case involved a driver’s claims against a city and others whom she claimed  were at fault for an accident that happened when she ran a stop sign that was obscured by foliage.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, the plaintiff was a woman who was involved in a traffic accident at an intersection in August 2013. She was traveling on a street that was controlled by a stop sign, but she did not see the stop sign because it was obscured by trees or large bushes located in the “devil strip” (the area between the street and the sidewalk). Accordingly, she drove past the stop sign and collided with a car approaching the intersection from the perpendicular street (the other motorist had the right-of-way).

The plaintiff brought suit against the city in which the accident occurred, the owner of the land on which the trees or shrubs were growing, a bank that had initiated a foreclosure against the property owner, and a company that had been contracted by the bank to maintain the property. The bank and maintenance company filed cross claims against the city, seeking contribution and indemnification, or, in other words, to hold the city responsible for failing to maintain the tree lawn, for which it was legally responsible. The city sought summary judgment, arguing that it was immune from liability under the Ohio Political Subdivision Tort Liability Act, codified at Ohio Revised Code ch. 2744.

The trial court denied the city’s motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals affirmed. (Meanwhile, the plaintiff settled her claim against the maintenance company.)

Decision of the Ohio Supreme Court

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the lower court and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against the city. According to the Supreme Court, the legislature, as “arbiter of public policy in Ohio,” has acted to limit political subdivision liability for injuries and deaths on the state’s roadways in order to preserve municipal  fiscal integrity. One way that the legislature has accomplished this is to limit a political subdivision’s liability for a negligent failure to keep roads in repair or remove obstructions from them.  Since the stop sign at issue in this particular case was in good repair, and the foliage was not actually on the stop sign, the city did not have an obligation to remove the shrubs or trees from the devil strip. Thus, the trial court should have rendered judgment in its favor.

Need Advice from an Experienced Cleveland Car Accident Attorney?

If you need to talk to a knowledgeable Ohio car accident lawyer about a possible motor vehicle collision lawsuit, Rubin Guttman & Associates, L.P.A., welcomes your call. There is no charge for the initial consultation, and most cases are handled on a contingency contract agreement. This means that you do not owe us a legal fee unless and until your case is settled or a judgment is entered in your favor. For an appointment, call us now at 216-696-4006.

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