Public Policy & No Insurance Defeats Negligence Claim.

AuthorZalma, Barry

* Leodis Sledge appealed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the City of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, et al on his claims of negligence that he asserted were the proximate cause of Leach's death on April 16, 2020.


On April 12, 2020, a large line of severe thunderstorms containing straight-line winds and tornadoes passed through Arkansas, including Jefferson County, where Pine Bluff is located. As a result of these storms, Jefferson County was declared by the governor to be a disaster area. Pine Bluff suffered hundreds of uprooted trees as a result of the extreme winds, and more than 33,000 Entergy customers lost power as a result of the storms. One of the downed trees partially obstructed the road on Hutchison Street near Smart Street. From April 13 to April 16, there were several documented 911 calls regarding the downed tree as well as several records indicating that both the police department and the street department were notified of the downed tree. However, no officers remained on the scene of the downed tree, no barriers were erected around the tree, and the street was not closed.

On April 14, a motorist reported that he almost hit the tree and that it could not be seen until you were "right up on it." Early on the morning of April 16, 2020, Kelli Shavers hit the downed tree while driving her vehicle. Tanesha Leach, who was a passenger in Shavers's vehicle, was killed. Shavers stated that she knew there was a downed tree on Hutchison Street, but she did not remember exactly where it was located, it was dark, and even though she slowed her vehicle as she believed she was getting close to the tree, she still hit the tree.

The appellees moved for summary judgment on Sledges complaint, asserting municipal immunity on the basis that it had no general-liability coverage under Arkansas Code Annotated section 21-9-301.

The circuit court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding that although Sledge had pleaded sufficient facts to establish a prima facie case of "utter indifference and conscious disregard," Arkansas Code Annotated section 21-9-301 grants municipalities immunity from liability and from suits for damages except to the extent they may be covered by liability insurance, and on the basis of Mayor Washington's affidavit, the city was not covered by liability insurance against negligent actions at the time of the incident in which Leach was killed. This timely appeal followed.


Arkansas courts have held...

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