Etcitty v. State of Arizona
Negligence Claim Against the State of Arizona
We help victims of negligence obtain their rightful compensation. Our attorneys have proven experience in this area of the law. Below is an example of a case we took to the Arizona Court of Appeals. The case was settled in favor of the Plantiff in the amount of $3,000,000.00.
State of Arizona May Be Sued For Negligence
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On the evening of March 2, 2011, Margaret Etcitty was driving north on U.S. 191 (Highway 191), a two-lane state highway in Apache County, Arizona, with her daughter Tamara Etcitty as her passenger. Their car struck a cow, crossed the median, and came to a stop in the southbound lane. After the accident, Margaret and Tamara exited their car and went to the side of highway. Thereafter, Tamara re-entered the highway and was standing near the disabled car when a van driving southbound struck her causing severe and permanent injury.
To establish their claim for negligence, Plaintiffs must prove four elements: (1) a duty requiring the State to conform to a certain standard of care, (2) a breach by the State of that standard, (3) a causal connection between the State’s conduct and the resulting injury, and (4) actual damages. The first of those elements, "whether a duty exists," is generally a legal issue for the court to decide, while the remaining elements, "including breach and causation, are factual issues usually decided by the jury." Id. The elements at issue in this case are breach and causation.
Breach of Duty
In Arizona, it is undisputed that the state has an unchanging duty to keep its roadways reasonably safe for travel and that, generally, the question of whether that duty was breached is for the trier of fact. Both parties agreed the State has a duty to maintain Highway 191 in a condition that is reasonably safe for travel. The State's liability extends to "dangerous conditions permitted by [the State] to continue in existence."
Although the parties agreed the State has a duty, they disagree regarding whether the State breached its duty. The State argued there was no breach. We argued that a reasonable jury could find the State breached its duty.
The record contains the following facts, which we view in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, as the non-moving party. In 2009, multiple employees from the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) were aware of a "danger situation" involving "a number of accidents involving motorists and livestock" in the area of Highway 191 near the accident site. The employees were also aware that certain homeowners, Edwin and Darlene Tracy, had a permitted turnout gate, which they sometimes left open. The State addressed this issue by sending a letter to the Tracys in July 2009 stating:
It has been brought to our attention that there have been a number of accidents involving motorists and livestock in the vicinity of the turnout to your residence. The most recent of these accidents involved two calves that were struck and killed by a passing motorist.
ADOT has the responsibility of ensuring the utmost safety possible to the traveling public and all that use it. Therefore, ADOT would like to take this opportunity to remind you that the gate to your property is to remain closed at all times when not in use to help provide this safety. Keeping the gate closed when not in use is one of the requirements of your turnout permit.
Should the gate remain open when not in use and livestock enters onto the highway right of way, ADOT will have to terminate your permit, remove the gate, and construct a fence across the turnout. We would appreciate your cooperation in this very serious matter to help eliminate this dangerous situation.
ADOT's records reflect that problems with livestock on this area of Highway 191 continued into 2010, but no further communication between ADOT and the Tracys took place. When deposed, ADOT's maintenance supervisor explained that he did not escalate the livestock problem to his supervisor, because he knew Edwin Tracy. ADOT's district engineer indicated that if he had known there were issues attributable to cattle coming through a particular homeowner's gate, he would have fenced in the gate.
After a car-cow collision, Tamara Etcitty was severely and permanently injured. The case was settled in the amount of $3,000,000.00.