WA Case Update: Does a Municipality Owe a Duty of Care to Remove Hazardous Roadside Vegetation?

From the Desk of Kyle D. Riley: What is the standard of care owed by a municipality to a motorist regarding roadside conditions? Find out in this week’s case update.

Claims Pointer: The Washington Supreme Court held that a municipality’s duty to maintain its roadway in a reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel includes removing or correcting hazardous roadside vegetation. Therefore, if a wall of roadside vegetation makes the roadway unsafe by obstructing a motorist’s view, the municipality has a duty to take reasonable steps to address it. As a result of this ruling, we can expect municipalities to be added as defendants in cases where roadside vegetation contributed to the cause of an accident.

Wuthrich v. King County, No. 91555-5 (January 28, 2016).

Guy Wuthrich and Christa Gilland collided in an intersection after Gilland was turning left and could not see Wuthrich approaching. Wuthrich filed a complaint against both Gilland and King County, alleging that the County was also liable for his injuries due to overgrown blackberry bushes obstructing Gilland’s view of traffic. The trial court dismissed the action against the County on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. The Washington Supreme Court granted Wuthrich’s request for review. Wuthrich’s claim against Gilland was stayed during the pendency of the appeal and review.

The Washington Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment dismissal and reinstated Wuthrich’s claim against the County. The Court held that a municipality has a duty to take reasonable steps to remove or correct hazardous conditions that make a roadway unsafe for ordinary travel, which includes hazardous conditions created by roadside vegetation. Therefore, summary judgment was inappropriate in this case where Wuthrich introduced sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact as to whether the County breached its duty and whether the road was reasonably safe for ordinary travel....

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