OPINION ISSUED DECEMBER 20, 2000
STEPHANIE GALE STURM
DIVISION OF HIGHWAYS
Claimant appeared pro se.
Xueyan Zhang, Attorney at Law, for respondent.
Claimant brought this action for vehicle damage sustained when
her vehicle struck a piece of concrete while she was traveling
westbound on I-64 between Nitro and Cross Lanes. At this location,
I-64 is maintained by respondent in Kanawha County. The Court is
of the opinion to make an award in this claim for the reasons more
fully set forth below.
The incident giving rise to this claim occurred on September
30, 1999, at approximately 11:00 p.m. Claimant Stephanie Gale
Sturm was driving her 1992 BMW 325 when she entered I-64 at the
Cross Lanes exit near a construction site with a break in the
concrete barriers. She was traveling at a speed of about
fifty-five miles per hour. Other traffic was present on the road.
Claimant maneuvered her vehicle into the passing lane in order to
pass a slower moving vehicle. Suddenly, she noticed a piece of
concrete about twenty feet away from the vehicle in her lane of
travel. The piece of concrete was positioned near a break in the
wall near a construction site. The vehicle struck the piece of
concrete, which had pieces of re-bar embedded into it. The impact
burst all four tires and damaged the undercarriage of the vehicle.
During an attempt to move the vehicle, the motor was damaged.
Afterwards, claimant informed 911 of the incident, but she stated
that there was no response. The sustained damage exceeded the
$500.00 deductible feature in claimant's motor vehicle insurance
policy. In accordance with the Court's decision in Summerville et
al. vs. Division of Highways, any recovery would be limited to this
amount. See Id., 18 Ct. Cl. 110 (1991).
The position of respondent is that it did not have notice of
the concrete on I-64 in Kanawha County. According to Crew
Supervisor Michael Escue, a contractor for respondent was
conducting a widening project at the location in question.
Respondent was supposed to have a project observer at the
construction site to supervise the work. Mr. Escue further
testified that the breaks in the concrete barriers allow trucks
ingress and egress in order to remove debris from the site. Prior
to claimant's incident, respondent asserts that it had no
information regarding the road debris.
The well-established principle of law in West Virginia is that
the State is neither an insurer nor a guarantor of the safety of
travelers upon its roads. Adkins vs. Sims, 130 W.Va. 645; 46 S.E.2d 81 (1947). In order to hold respondent liable for road
defects of this type, claimant must prove that respondent had
actual or constructive notice of the defect and a reasonable time
to take corrective action. Chapman vs. Dept. of Highways, 16 Ct.
Cl. 103 (1986). Moreover, respondent has a duty to ensure that an
independent contractor completes a project in such a manner that
travelers will not be put into a position of unreasonable danger.
See Tolley vs. Division of Highways, 22 Ct. Cl. 12 (1997) and Acree
vs. Division of Highways, 22 Ct. Cl. 137 (1998).
In this claim, the evidence established that respondent had
constructive if not actual knowledge of the road debris on I-64 in
Kanawha County. The Court is of the belief that the debris in
question came from the nearby construction site. Respondent's
project observer had a duty to keep the site clear of hazards to
the traveling public. Consequently, there is evidence of
negligence on the part of respondent upon which to base an award.
In accordance with the findings of fact and conclusions of law
stated herein above, the Court is of the opinion to and does make
an award in this claim.
Award of $500.00.