Packard v. Falls City Area Jaycees – Traffic Control Liability Explored


The widow of a motorcyclist killed in a collision with a pickup truck driver headed to a “demolition derby” sued both the city and event organizers for damages, alleging traffic control measures were inadequate.

However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in Packard v. Falls City Area Jaycees et al., that the defendants owed the decedent no duty to control the traffic on the highway at the time of the crash. The appellate court rejected a claim asserting the lower court had erred in dismissing the case.

Although this case had a disappointing outcome for the plaintiff, it’s important for our Naples motorcycle accident attorneys to note that negligence laws pertaining to traffic control vary not only from state-to-state, but even from city-to-city, as well as by facts of the case.

For example, in Nebraska, where this crash happened, the state does not recognize foreseeability as an element of negligence. That is, in determining whether a person or entity is negligent for a person’s death, the court will analyze the duty of care the defendant owed the plaintiff, whether that duty was breached and whether that breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s death or compensable injury. In determining duty owed, the courts in that state will not consider whether the alleged injury was foreseeable. Foreseeability in a negligence case asks whether the defendant should have reasonably foreseen the general consequences that might result from his or her conduct or lack of action.

Nebraska doesn’t recognize this element, but Florida does. Given that fact alone, it’s possible that the outcome of this case may have differed had it been considered in Florida.

But of course, there are other elements that come into play.

Traffic engineers and transportation officials generally face potential liability for poorly-designed or ill-maintained roads, intersections, crosswalks and thoroughfares. Still, city and county officials can only regulate traffic control by way of state-approved devices and measures that must conform to state DOT specifications.

The distinction that is often made in these cases is whether the traffic control efforts were minsterial or discretionary. The first involves operations that leave minimal leeway for personal judgment. The second involves those functions that leave a choice among valid alternatives. The former is generally immune from civil torts.

Generally, however, event organizers carry their own insurance. Most take steps to plan for traffic control, either contracting with off-duty officers (at, say, a concert) or reimbursing on-duty city workers (at a parade, for example). But most of those plans extend only as far as the event premises.

In the Packard case, the problem for the plaintiff was that the incident occurred just off-site on a nearby roadway. According to court records, the defendants (the event organizers and the city) were aware traffic would be heavier than usual that day, given the fact that other traffic was being diverted near the main entrance to the event because of a bridge closure and flooding. Also, the event itself was a popular draw.

Despite this, the event did not contract with county or local police to help with traffic control. No one was warning motorist of danger or directing traffic at the intersection near the entrance.

The at-fault driver approached the intersection to turn left into the gate. As he did so, he struck a motorcyclist traveling in the opposite direction, fatally injuring him.

In reviewing the case for liability, the appellate court noted that Nebraska law generally places liability for traffic control on public roads on the shoulders of law enforcement.

While the plaintiff cited other cases (mostly out-of-state) in which occupiers of land adjacent to or abutting public highways were found to owe a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury to highway travelers, the appellate court found many of these misplaced. Here, there was no allegation that a dangerous condition on the property posed a risk to nearby travelers, as was cited in the other cases. Rather, the risk was on the volume of traffic on the highway, over which the event organizers had no control.

That said, it undoubtedly would have been wise for the event organizers to hire more help with traffic control. However, in this case, the court found they had no legal obligation to do so.

That doesn’t mean the same will be true in your case. Consult with an experienced attorney to learn more about your options for compensation.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Packard v. Falls City Area Jaycees et al., July 17, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals  for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Motorcyclist Injury Increased With Novelty Helmet Use, July 10, 2014, Naples Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog