Who has duty to enforce big rig size limits on Kentucky’s roads?

by Mandy Hicks

Generally, when someone is hurt due to another party’s negligence, the injured person has a right to seek fair compensation in a court of law. When the alleged breach of duty was by a governmental entity or government employee, however, different rules apply.

At common law, the government could not be held liable for injuries caused by negligence. This was because of the “sovereign immunity” doctrine, which held that “the king can do no wrong.”

While it is now possible to file suit against the government and be awarded money damages under some circumstances, such cases tend to be much more difficult than if the defendant had been a business or individual without government ties.

Facts of the Case

In a recent published opinion from the Supreme Court of Kentucky, the plaintiff was the administratrix of the estate of a man who died in a school bus/tractor trailer collision on a narrow and meandering highway on Pine Mountain in 2000.

The plaintiff filed a claim against the defendant state highway department in the Kentucky Board of Claims, asserting that the defendant was negligent in failing to enforce the length and width restrictions (set forth in Kentucky Revised Statutes § 189.221) on the highway where the wreck happened. According to the plaintiff, the tractor-trailer was five inches too wide and 14 feet too long to be on the road in question.

While you may sue individuals employed by the state highway department in Circuit Court, if you sue he state highway department, you must file a claim in the Kentucky Board of Claims. The Board of Claims was originally established by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1946 with the mission to ensure an impartial and fair review of all claims filed by citizens who believe their person or property has been damaged through negligence on the part of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The Board ruled in the defendant’s favor. After a lengthy appellate process that involved at least one remand back to the Board for further consideration, the case was reviewed by the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

Decision of the State Supreme Court

The state’s highest court also found in the defendant’s favor, deciding that the state highway department did not owe the plaintiff a legal duty to enforce the size restrictions found in § 189.221. In so holding, the court rejected the plaintiff’s “special relationship” argument, noting that this rule might have applied had the plaintiff named the Office of Vehicle Enforcement (or a particular official in the office) as the defendant or if she had based her lawsuit on the universal duty of law enforcement to keep the public safe from crime.

The court also pointed out that most of the lower courts’ opinions had assumed that a duty existed on the part of the defendant. Due to the plaintiff’s failure to supply any statutory or regulatory evidence that the defendant was charged with the duty to enforce § 189.221, the court found the lower courts’ analysis to be flawed.

Speak to an Attorney About a Motor Vehicle Accident Case

Big trucks can cause serious injuries and even death. If you or a loved one has been hurt by an overweight or overloaded truck, a negligent trucker, or a careless trucking company, you should talk to an attorney about your legal rights. To schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable truck accident lawyer, call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley today at 270-781-6500 and ask for a free consultation. We serve clients throughout the states of Kentucky and Tennessee, including in the cities of Bowling Green, Nashville, Springfield, and Franklin.

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