OPINION ISSUED JANUARY 19, 2001
MARY ROY AND JAMES ROY
DIVISION OF HIGHWAYS
Claimant Mary Roy appeared pro se.
Andrew F. Tarr, Attorney at Law, for respondent.
Claimants brought this action for vehicle damage sustained
when their vehicle was struck by a rock while claimant Mary Roy and
her uncle were traveling westbound on Route 33 outside Elkins in
rainy weather. At this location, Route 33 is maintained by
respondent in Randolph County. The Court is of the opinion to deny
this claim for the reasons more fully set forth below.
The incident giving rise to this claim occurred on November 2,
1999. On the day in question, claimant Mary Roy and her uncle were
traveling westbound on Route 33, outside Elkins toward Norton, in
claimants' 1996 Ford Contour. Ms. Roy testified that she
frequently travels this portion of road and she was not aware of
any "Falling Rock" signs posted along the side of the road. At this
location, Route 33 is a first priority road with a width of
twenty-two to twenty-three feet and shoulders two to three feet in
width. The north side of Route 33 is a hillside, locally known as
"fossil park," and is a known rock-fall area. Along the road at
this location, respondent has installed "Falling Rock" signs in
each direction before travelers enter this area. The sign to the
east of the accident scene is about one-quarter mile from the
location in question and claimant Mary Roy would have passed the
sign. These signs were installed in May of 1994. They are about
fourteen feet from the edge of the pavement. As Ms. Roy drove the
vehicle along the road, a rock fell from the hillside, bounced off
a ledge and into the road, striking the vehicle. Ms. Roy
immediately notified the local State Police Detachment about the
incident. The vehicle sustained damage in excess of the $100.00
deductible feature in their motor vehicle insurance policy and
claimants had to pay for a rental vehicle until the repairs on
their vehicle were completed. Neither Ms. Roy nor her uncle
suffered a personal injury in the incident. In accordance with the
Court's decision in Summerville, et al. vs. Division of Highways,
any recovery would be limited to the amount of their deductible
feature, plus any other out of pocket expenses. See Id., 18 Ct.
Cl. 110 (1991). Also, Ms. Roy claims $500.00 for pain and
suffering due to emotional distress caused by this incident.
The position of respondent was that it did not have notice
regarding a rock-fall on Route 33 in Randolph County. According to
Assistant Supervisor Lewis Barry Gardner, the location in question
is a known rock fall area and respondent had installed signs to warn the traveling public. Further, respondent did not receive any
information regarding this incident.
The Court has consistently held that the unexplained falling
of rock or rock debris on the road surface is insufficient to
justify an award. Mitchell vs. Division of Highways, 21 Ct. Cl. 91
(1996); Hammond vs. Dept. of Highways, 11 Ct. Cl. 234 (1977). In
order to establish liability on behalf of respondent, the evidence
must establish that respondent had notice of the dangerous
condition posing the threat of injury to property and a reasonable
time to take suitable action to protect motorists. Alkire vs.
Division of Highways, 21 Ct. Cl. 179 (1997).
The evidence failed to establish that respondent had not taken
adequate measures to assure the safety of the traveling public
while traveling on Route 33 in Randolph County. While the Court is
sympathetic to claimants' plight, the fact remains that there is
insufficient evidence of negligence on the part of respondent upon
which to base an award.
In accordance with the findings of fact and conclusions of law
stated herein above, the Court is of the opinion to and does deny