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Simons v. Sanpete County

Court of Appeals of Utah

June 7, 2018

David Simons and Allison Simons, Appellants,
v.
Sanpete County, Appellee.

          Sixth District Court, Manti Department The Honorable Wallace A. Lee No. 150600057

          Charles A. Gruber and David L. Morgan, Attorneys for Appellants

          Jesse C. Trentadue, Noah M. Hoagland, and Britton R. Butterfield, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Diana Hagen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen and Kate A. Toomey concurred.

          HAGEN, JUDGE.

         ¶1 This case arises from a tragic car accident that resulted in the death of Brady Simons.[1] Brady's parents, David and Allison Simons (collectively, the Simonses), brought this wrongful death action against Sanpete County in their capacities as heirs and personal representatives of Brady's estate. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Sanpete County, ruling that the county did not owe Brady a duty of care. Because we conclude that the public duty doctrine applies and that Sanpete County did not form a special relationship with Brady, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 After a motorist hit and killed a deer on SR-89 outside of Gunnison, Utah, she called Sanpete County's dispatch center at 6:21 a.m. to report the incident and notify authorities that the deer was lying in the middle of the road. Unfortunately, Utah Highway Patrol-the agency responsible for responding to such calls-never received notification of this dangerous road condition.[2]

         ¶3 At approximately 6:50 a.m., a second motorist, who was driving northbound on SR-89, hit the deer carcass, causing her vehicle to cross the center line and collide head-on with Brady's vehicle. Both drivers died as a result of the accident.

         ¶4 The Simonses sued Sanpete County, [3] alleging that

[b]ut for the negligence of [Sanpete County], the Second Motorist would not have hit the dead deer carcass, would not have lost control of her vehicle, would not have crossed over into Brady's lane, and would not have collided with Brady resulting in the Accident and serious injuries which took Brady's life.

         ¶5 Sanpete County filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the public duty doctrine bars the Simonses' negligence claims as a matter of law. In granting summary judgment, the district court concluded that the public duty doctrine applies in this case because Sanpete County's obligation to maintain its highways extends to anyone who may travel on them, and its failure to remove the deer carcass was an omission that did not contribute to the danger that otherwise existed. In addition, the district court determined that no special relationship had been created by statute or by Sanpete County's conduct. Accordingly, the court concluded that "the public duty doctrine prevents [the Simonses'] recovery in this case."

         ¶6 The Simonses timely appeal.

         ISSUES AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7 The Simonses contend that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Sanpete County. Specifically, the Simonses argue that (1) the public duty doctrine is inapplicable because Sanpete County performed an affirmative act when the dispatcher answered the warning call and (2) upon learning of the dangerous road condition, ...


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