Kimminau v. City of Hastings – Truck Spill and Local Government Liability

Any time there is an auto accident, there is likely to be debris in the roadway requiring cleanup. This is typically the duty of local authorities.
Cleanup can be especially arduous when one of the vehicles involved was a large truck, hauling massive amounts of materials and goods. There have been many cases in which trucks carrying food products, oil or hazardous chemicals have crashed. Because these substances create a dangerous situation on the road, they must be thoroughly cleared before traffic is allowed to resume.

The case of Kimminau v. City of Hastings involved one such spill. The question before the Nebraska Supreme Court was who could be held responsible when dangerous conditions on a roadway, created by an earlier spill, contributed to a crash the following day.

According to court records, law enforcement and emergency workers in responded to a call of a truck accident on a two-lane roadway one November day in 2009. No one was injured, but as a result of the accident, corn mash had been spilled all over the road.

Corn mash is a type of byproduct fed to cattle, and it’s got the consistency of tapioca pudding. It’s sometimes referred to as “wet cake.” It’s quite slippery and it created a danger to passing motorists.

Authorities shut down the road while local city and volunteer firefighters arrived to clean the mess. At no point did the authorities ask the truck driver or the trucking company to assist in the cleanup, and they did not participate.

The crews used shovels, brooms and fire hoses to clear the road, shoveling the corn mash onto the shoulder and into a nearby ditch.

Once the mess had been cleared, officers gave the Ok to reopen the road, deeming it safe for traffic. A volunteer fire captain made it a point to drive out to the site later that night to make sure the road was still clear, and it was.

The following day, a motorist was driving by that side. One of her tires dropped onto the unpaved shoulder. She soon after lost control of her vehicle and crashed into a utility pole, suffering injury.

She sued the truck driver, the truck company and three government agencies who had been involved in the cleanup, alleging negligence by failure to ensure the road was safe and failure to warn motorists of possible danger.

Ultimately, what the state supreme court determined was this: The trucking company and the truck driver were released from liability once authorities re-opened the road and announced it clear for traffic.

However, the government agencies were not entitled to sovereign immunity, as they asserted. Even though the roadway was technically clear of dangerous material, the shoulder was not. Previous case law in that state has established that the shoulder of a highway is in fact part of the highway, as it is intended for use by motorists.

Therefore, the government agencies would have had a duty to ensure it was clear as well.

With this ruling, the earlier grant of summary judgment to defendant government agencies was reversed and the case may continue to trial.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Kimminau v. City of Hastings, June 19, 2015, Nebraska Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Dakter v. Cavallino – Truck Driver Duty of Care on the Road, July 13, 2015, Asheville Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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