Iowa court reduces government liability for road safety

Cities, counties and the state of Iowa are less liable for injuries caused by road maintenance issues after a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling that upheld a longstanding but controversial legal doctrine.

The court in a June 8 ruling said a northern Iowa woman cannot sue Humboldt County for failing to remove a concrete wall a farmer had installed in a roadside ditch to keep cows from escaping.

Kaitlyn Johnson was injured in March 2013 when the pickup truck she was riding in left the road southwest of Humboldt and struck the concrete structure.

She sued the farmer for installing the barrier and the county for failure to remove it.

The Supreme Court has upheld a judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Iowa maintains the public-duty doctrine, a legal concept that says governments cannot be held liable for breaching a duty owed to the general public.

Four justices held the doctrine remains the law in Iowa but three disagreed, saying it is at odds with the legislature’s clear intent to limit government immunity.

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