Plaintiff's Failure to Present Evidence Preserves Municipal Immunity for City

Sometimes figuring out who to sue can be one of the more difficult parts of a lawsuit. When you get hit by in a car accident, you sue the other driver. But what happens when you experience an injury that isn’t directly caused by another person but isn’t your fault either?

Recently, in Colbert County, in In re: Harden v. City of Muscle Shoals, the Supreme Court addressed whether exceptions to municipal immunity should apply for an accident in a city baseball park. The City of Muscle Shoals owned and operated Gattman Park. In 2014, Reginald Harden, as part of a city-funded project, was working to replace lights on the poles at the baseball fields at the park.

While working, Harden went to a shed in the park where the lights were stored and fell through a metal grate that had been covered up with leaves and dirt. Harden sued the City. The City filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was entitled to a dismissal of all of Harden’s claims based on its municipal immunity. The trial court denied the motion as to Harden’s negligence claims. The City petitioned for a writ of mandamus (an order for a higher court to the trial court to correct an abuse of discretion).

According to the Court, municipalities (cities) are generally protected from lawsuit with a few exceptions. In order to defeat municipal immunity, Harden need to show that his injuries were the result of some “neglect, carelessness, or unskillfulness” on the part of the City or that the City had notice of the metal grate before Harden’s injury and failed to do anything about it.

Harden did not meet this burden. Harden did not present evidence that a City employee caused the grate to fail, installed it negligently, or disturbed it in some way. Harden also did not provide evidence that the City had notice of the steel grate’s nature or that the grate would deteriorate to the dangerous level that led to Harden’s injury. Because Harden failed to present the appropriate evidence, the Court reversed the trial court’s ruling, finding that the trial court erred by denying the City’s motion for summary judgment.

The main takeaway here is that municipal immunity is very difficult to overcome. In order for a citizen to successfully succeed on a suit against a city, that person must show that whatever condition was the source of injury was either negligently or recklessly installed from the get-go by the city or that the city had knowledge of the condition. Because Harden failed to do this, he could not make a case against the City of Muscle Shoals.

It is important to seek an experienced attorney who understands the realities of Alabama civil law. If you need a civil lawyer, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 236-3997 for help with your case.

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