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Roadside Foliage Obstructing a Stop Sign – Is A City Liable?  A Case of First Impression

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By Michelle J. Sheehan

July 25, 2018

The Ohio Supreme Court recently held that a city is not liable for foliage that obstructs a motorist’s view of a stop sign. Pelletier v. City of Campbell, 2018-Ohio-2121. The court determined that foliage that was only blocking a motorist’s view of the sign, was not an “obstruction,” subject to an exception to immunity.

In Ohio, political subdivisions are generally entitled to immunity from liability under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2744 for performing governmental functions such as maintaining a road. There are several exceptions to this broad grant of immunity. These exceptions include a city’s “negligent failure to keep public roads in repair and other negligent failure to remove obstructions from public roads.” O.R.C. § 2744.02(B)(3).

Prior to 2002, courts held that political subdivisions are responsible for maintaining vegetation along the roadway that blocked or obstructed a motorist’s ability to discern traffic devices. These cases were premised on an understanding that political subdivisions were not immune from liability claims arising out of their failure to keep roads free from a “nuisance.” In 2002, however, the legislature amended O.R.C. Chapter 2744 to remove the word “nuisance” and created liability instead for the “negligent failure to remove obstructions from public roads.” O.R.C. § 2744.02(B)(3). In a case of first impression since O.R.C. Chapter 2744 was amended in 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court interpreted the amended immunity statute to only permit liability against cities for “obstructions” (including foliage) on the traffic device, not the obstructions blocking the traffic device.  

In Pelletier, Judith Pelletier claimed she could not see the stop sign at an intersection because trees and large bushes were growing in the “devil strip” (the grassy area between a street and a sidewalk). As previously stated, O.R.C. § 2744.02(B)(3) creates an exception to immunity for a political subdivision’s negligent failure to keep public roads “in repair”[1] or their failure to remove “obstructions” from public roads. The Court held that foliage thirty-four feet in front of the stop sign does not render the stop sign in need of “repair” nor an “obstruction” on the stop sign. Therefore, neither exception set forth in O.R.C. § 2744.02 (B)(3) applied and the city was entitled to immunity. This decision clarifies and limits a city’s duty to maintain foliage near traffic devices.

If you have any questions regarding Pelletier v. City of Campbell, would like a complete copy of the opinion, or have any questions with respect to government liability matters, please contact members of Reminger’s Governmental / Public Entity Liability Practice Group.

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 [1] It was undisputed that a stop sign was mandated by the Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control devices and therefore part of the public road per R.C. § 2744.01(H).

This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel.

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