VINDY EXCLUSIVE | Campbell not liable for 2013 crash, Ohio Supreme Court rules


By Justin Wier

jwier@vindy.com

COLUMBUS

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against a woman who said she ran a stop sign and hit another car in Campbell because foliage blocked her view of the stop sign.

Judith Pelletier claimed overgrown foliage in the devil strip, the area between the road and sidewalk, outside a foreclosed property on Sanderson Avenue obscured her view of the stop sign.

Pelletier sued the city of Campbell, the property owner and the bank that initiated the foreclosure proceedings.

Justice Sharon L. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that while municipalities are not immune from lawsuits involving traffic accidents caused by negligence, a city is obligated to remove only obstructions that are on public roads or mandated traffic-control devices.

In this case, the foliage Pelletier said blocked her view was 34 feet away from the stop sign, according to court records.

“Because the foliage was not on the stop sign, the city had no obligation to remove it from the devil strip,” Justice Kennedy wrote.

The court’s decision overturns previous decisions in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court and the 7th District Court of Appeals.

Brian Macala, Campbell’s law director, said he is happy with the court’s decision.

“We want to keep safe roadways, but in a city the size of Campbell, there might be 300 stop signs,” Macala said. “This would put it upon the city to clear every single devil strip, if we follow the theory, 34 feet back.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote an opinion in which she agreed Pelletier failed to prove the stop sign was in disrepair, but the chief justice disagreed with the majority’s interpretation of an obstruction.

“There is no question that an object can obstruct or block a traffic-control device without literally being on it,” she wrote.

She said the majority’s standard nearly indemnifies communities from liability because of the unlikelihood that a blocked traffic-control device will have an obstruction physically on it.

“From the perspective of a driver, it does not matter whether foliage touching a stop sign renders it unviewable or whether a tree growing two feet in front of it, but not touching it, does,” the chief justice wrote. “The majority, however, is not concerned with this practical reality faced by drivers across Ohio.”

Four justices joined Justice Kennedy, while only Judge William Harsha, who sat for Justice Mary DeGenaro who ruled on the case in the 7th District Court of Appeals, joined Chief Justice O’Connor.

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