We previously wrote about the Indiana Court of Appeals opinion in Ladra v. State affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the State of Indiana and the Indiana Department of Transportation (collectively “INDOT”) finding INDOT immune from liability in a lawsuit brought by Tracy Ladra (“Ladra”), who suffered injuries when her vehicle hydroplaned on a flooded portion of I-94. In the case, there was evidence INDOT was aware of a defect in the highway’s drainage system that would cause consistent flooding in the highway. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals (reluctantly so) relied on Indiana Supreme Court precedent in Catt v. Bd. of Comm’rs of Knox Cty., 779 N.E. 2d 1 (Ind. 2002), which characterized any negligence of the government in the design and maintenance of a thoroughfare and its knowledge of past incidents as irrelevant, and held INDOT was immune based upon the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA), which provides “[a] governmental entity… is not liable if a loss results from… [t]he temporary condition of a public thoroughfare… that results from weather.” Ind. Code § 34-13-3-3(3).
In the same blog, we also wrote about the Indiana Court of Appeals opinion in Staat v. Indiana Dep’t of Transp., in which Chad Staat and Julie Statt (collectively the “Staats”) filed a personal injury lawsuit against INDOT arising from injuries Chad sustained when his vehicle hydroplaned on accumulated, pooling, or puddled water on I-74, left the roadway, and collided with a tree. In Staat, as in Ladra, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of INDOT finding INDOT immune from liability for a temporary condition resulting from weather under the ITCA. However, in Staat, unlike in Ladra, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the roadway condition was temporary so as to entitle INDOT to immunity, and INDOT had not otherwise negated its duty as a matter of law.
The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer in Ladra and in a divided opinion modified its rule in Catt and reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of INDOT on the issue of immunity. The Court’s opinion first reviewed the common-law origins of sovereign immunity, the abrogation of such by Indiana courts, and legislative codification of governmental immunity in the ITCA; second, it analyzed and modified the rule in Catt; third, it discussed why legislative acquiescence and stare decisis do not forbid the Court’s modification of the rule in Catt, with discussion of policy arguments advanced by INDOT; and last, it analyzed the Court’s new rule as to the facts in Ladra, finding a genuine issue of material fact under the Court’s new rule. Under the Court’s new rule, “when the government knows of an existing defect in a public thoroughfare that manifests during recurring weather conditions, and when it has ample opportunity to respond, immunity does not apply simply because the defect manifests during inclement weather.”