The Iowa Supreme Court recently released a decision affirming a lower court’s ruling in favor of the government defendant in a wrongful death case that was filed by the surviving family of a 10-year-old boy who was killed in a boating accident on a lake owned by the defendant, the state department of natural resources. The lawsuit alleged that the state agency was negligent by permitting a dredge pipe to be used and stored under the lake’s surface, which was a violation of state regulations and created a hazard for which the state should be held accountable. The most recent appellate opinion ruled that the plaintiff had no claim as a matter of law, and the defendant cannot be held liable for the boy’s death.
The plaintiffs in the case of McFarlin v. Iowa are the surviving family members of a 10-year-old boy who was killed in a boat accident on an Iowa lake. According to the facts noted in the opinion, the boy’s mother’s boyfriend was operating a speedboat that the boy was riding in and failed to notice or comply with warning buoys that signaled the existence of a dredge pipe beneath the water’s surface. Instead of slowing down and going around the buoys as intended, the boat operator drove the boat into the dangerous area at about 30 miles per hour, crashing the boat into the submerged pipe. As a result of the collision, the boat’s engine disconnected from the back of the boat and flipped into the passenger compartment of the boat, resulting in fatal injuries to the child.
The Plaintiff Attempts to Sue the State for Permitting the Hazard
In addition to several other lawsuits that were filed after the boy’s tragic death, the plaintiffs filed a negligence lawsuit against the state of Iowa, primarily arguing that the natural resources agency that was in control of the dredging operation on the lake was negligent by leaving the dredge pipe in the lake and causing a hazard. Part of the plaintiff’s claim was based upon a state law stating that dredging equipment shall not be arranged in a manner that endangers other uses of the lake.
The courts rejected the plaintiff’s lawsuit on multiple grounds. First, the courts agreed that while there is a state law governing the placement of dredging equipment in lakes, the law does not allow a private citizen to enforce the regulations through a negligence lawsuit. Furthermore, the court ruled that the state defendant could not be sued for simple negligence, based on the public duty doctrine, which states that a government entity cannot be held liable for a failure to adequately enforce general laws intended to benefit the community as a whole. The courts ruled that the warnings surrounding the submerged pipe were adequate, and the state had no duty to control the conduct of the driver of the boat, whose negligence ultimately led to the boy’s death.
Florida’s Public Duty Doctrine
Similar to the courts in Iowa, Florida courts also subscribe to a modified version of the public duty doctrine, which prevents private citizens from suing the state government for the government’s failure to meet a general duty to protect its citizens. There are, however, exceptions to Florida’s public duty doctrine that can allow a government entity to be held accountable for their negligence when a special relationship exists between the state and the plaintiff that is above and beyond the duty generally owed to the public.
Exceptions to the public duty doctrine have been used by plaintiffs to successfully sue government agencies over unsafe roadways or other conditions. Florida accident victims who may have a claim against a government agency or subdivision should contact a knowledgeable Florida personal injury attorney for advice on how to proceed with their claim.
Have You Been Injured?
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by an unsafe condition or hazard, you may have a claim for damages, whether the incident occurred on private or publicly owned land. The skilled Florida negligence attorneys at Cecere Santana know which legal strategies are most likely to be successful in Florida personal injury claims, and we fight our hardest to get our clients the compensation they deserve. The premises liability lawyers at Cecere Santana represent clients in all types of Florida negligence cases, including boat accidents. Contact using the online form or call 800-753-5529 to schedule a free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Unexplained South Florida Accidents May Be the Result of Distracted Driving, Cecere Santana Injury Lawyers Blog, published May 3, 2016.
Topamax Birth Injury Case Results in $3 Million Verdict, Cecere Santana Injury Lawyers Blog, published June 9, 2016.