City May Be Liable for Causing Traffic Accident for Blocked Stop Sign
In May of 2011, in Findlay, Ohio, Jill Stevenson failed to stop at a stop sign at an intersection and collided with Gary Bibler, another motorist. A police officer determined that the stop sign was significantly obstructed from a distance as a driver approached it. The officer stated that the stop sign could not be seen because an overgrown tree blocked it. Bibler filed suit against Stevenson for failing to maintain a proper lookout for her vehicle and also against the city of Findlay for failing to ensure that the stop sign was visible to motorists.
Bibler eventually settled with Stevenson for an undisclosed sum but her case against the city of Findlay continued. Shortly thereafter, the trial court dismissed Findlay from the case, concluding that the City was entitled to statutory immunity as a governmental entity. Bibler appealed Findlay’s motion to be dismissed from liability and the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear Bibler’s appeal.
On appeal, Bibler claimed that governmental immunity was not appropriate in this case because the stop sign at issue was part of a “public road.” Under state law, local governments are responsible for the maintenance of public roads, and a government’s failure to maintain a public road can result in liability. The city responded that the stop sign was not a part of the road, and while the city could be liable for problems with the road itself, it could not be liable for the maintenance of the stop sign.
The Ohio Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court. The court began by clarifying that, as a general rule, cities are not immune from liability when they fail to maintain a public road. However, “berms, shoulders, rights-of-way, or traffic control devices” are not considered to be a part of a public road unless the placement of a traffic control device is required by state law. Here, the court explained that the placement of the stop sign was required under state law because the intersection was one consisting of a “through highway.” Since state law requires stop signs at intersections of through highways, the city was responsible for its maintenance, and immunity did not attach.