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Government Immunity Not Granted In Beech Grove Slip and Fall Case

Under the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA), governmental entities can only be subject to liability for tortious conduct unless the conduct falls within an immunity granted under the ITCA.

On June 19, 2012, Cathy Beloat was walking from her home in Beech Grove, Indiana to the library. She walked up Main Street to cross where Main intersects with 10th Street. As she was crossing, she stopped slightly outside of the crosswalk and her foot got wedged in a hole causing her to fall to the ground. Beloat suffered a broken leg.

Beloat filed a complaint against the City alleging that the City had failed to adequately maintain Main Street. The City denied liability and asserted immunity under the ITCA. When someone is injured after falling on a city sidewalk or government owned property, the claim can become difficult because of potential immunity statutes.

Beech Grove’s Claim of Immunity

The city of Beech Grove claimed that they were immune from liability because of ITCA’s discretionary function immunity provision. The City claimed that they made the decision to plan and execute a road reconstruction project of Main Street rather than doing “piecemeal repairs.” Therefore, the hole that caused Beloat to fall was unrepaired. As evidence of this, the City presented the Mayor’s affidavit and minutes from the City Council and Board of Works and Safety meeting.

Summary Judgment Denied

The City filed for summary judgment and was denied. The City appealed and the Court of Appeals determined that the City was entitled to discretionary function immunity, reversing the trial court’s denial of summary judgment. The Supreme Court of Indiana then vacated the Court of Appeals opinion, finding that the City was not entitled to summary judgment.

The Supreme Court of Indiana found that the evidence presented by the City failed to demonstrate that the City engaged in a policy decision to implement a reconstruction project rather than carrying out individual repairs. Case law establishes a “planning/operational test” for addressing discretionary function immunity. This assessment requires a weighing of alternatives and choosing public policy. The Court found that in this specific case, there was no specific cost-benefit analysis that occurred in order to determine that a total reconstruction project was better. Furthermore, there was no explanation of how the City determined what repairs would be included within the project and why.

The Mayor’s affidavit could not be relied upon to demonstrate that a policy decision was made. The minutes presented did not reflect that a discussion had taken place about what would be done to the road damage in the meantime, why total reconstruction was necessary, or what the costs of the reconstruction were as compared to individual repairs. Therefore there was not a demonstration that “conscious balancing” had taken place.

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