Appeals Court Overturns Negligence Case Against Kentucky Department of Highways Over Lack of Notice: Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Bunch

by Mandy Hicks

The Kentucky Court of Appeals has overturned a circuit court’s decision to affirm a Kentucky Board of Claims’ final order in a motorcycle accident case. In Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Bunch, a man sued after suffering multiple injuries when he crashed his motorcycle on Greenbelt Highway in Louisville. According to the man, he lost control of his motorcycle and suffered permanent harm when his tires hit an improperly patched and uneven pothole in the roadway. Following the accident, the man argued before the Kentucky Board of Claims that his accident occurred because the roadway where the pothole was patched was significantly elevated. The man also stated the condition of the road made it impossible for him to safely navigate the highway.

Testimony offered before a hearing officer indicated that potholes were a recurring problem in the area where the accident occurred, due to a defect in the concrete roadway. In addition, evidence suggested the pothole in question was repaired multiple times. Still, the Kentucky Department of Highways maintained that it had no record of receiving any complaints about the patched pothole during the four-month period preceding the man’s motorcycle collision. Additionally, there was no record of other motor vehicle accidents occurring in the area during that time.

After testimony concluded, the hearing officer recommended denying the injured man’s claim for damages because he failed to establish that the patch was unreasonably dangerous, that the Department of Highways maintained the roadway in a negligent manner, or that it had notice of the allegedly dangerous condition. Despite the hearing officer’s recommendation, the Board of Claims found that the Department of Highways created an unreasonable risk of harm to drivers and remanded the action back to the hearing officer to determine comparative fault and damages. Finally, the Board of Claims awarded the man nearly $90,000 in damages. The Jefferson Circuit Court affirmed the Board’s decision, and the Department of Highways filed an appeal with the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

On appeal, the court stated that Kentucky Revised Statutes Section 44.071 allows the Board of Claims to compensate a claimant for damages that resulted from negligence on the part of the Department of Highways and other agencies. The Board’s decision, however, must be supported by substantial evidence. In order to demonstrate negligence, the injured man was required to show that the Department of Highways had a duty to him, that it breached that duty, and that he was injured as a result of that breach.

According to the appeals court, the Department has a general duty to maintain the highways across Kentucky in a reasonably safe condition. In order to breach that duty, actual or constructive notice of an unsafe condition must be established. After examining the record, the Court of Appeals found that the Board of Claims failed to determine whether the Department of Highways had notice of the allegedly dangerous pothole. Likewise, the circuit court committed the same error when it affirmed the Board’s decision. Since there was no evidence that the Department of Highways had actual or constructive notice of the purportedly dangerous pothole, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky reversed the circuit court’s order affirming the Board of Claims’ final order.

If you were hurt in a motorcycle or other motor vehicle accident in Kentucky, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney. To discuss your case with an attorney, please call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP at (270) 781-6500 today or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Bunch, Kentucky Court of Appeals, 2014

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