S.D. justices say city wasn’t liable for volunteer fireman’s crash that led to two leg amputations

Capitol News Bureau
KELO gavel law court

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A circuit judge correctly found that a motorcyclist and passenger can’t collect from the city of Pierre and its fire department for their severe injuries, the South Dakota Supreme Court said in an opinion publicly issued Thursday.

Lisa Tammen and Randall Jurgens were badly hurt and had their left legs amputated above the knees as the result of an August 1, 2016, crash in rural Hughes County with a volunteer firefighting trainee, Gerrit Tronvold, who was on his way to a department meeting in Pierre.

Tronvold was cited for failure to yield after going through the stop sign on Grey Goose Road at the intersection with SD 1804. Several vehicles on SD 1804 were turning right onto Grey Goose Road. The motorcyclist and passenger were continuing in the driving lane on SD 1804 when they collided with Tronvold’s pickup.

Retired Circuit Judge Thomas Trimble found that the city and the fire department weren’t liable for Tronvold’s actions because he wasn’t acting within the scope of his employment. Judge Trimble rejected arguments for exceptions to what’s known as the ‘going and coming’ rule that protects employers from liability in most instances when their employees are driving to and from work.

Supreme Court Justice Janine Kern wrote the opinion supporting the judge’s decision. Justice Kern said the exceptions didn’t apply because neither the city nor the department “exercised sufficient control nor received a sufficient benefit from Tronvold’s commute.”

Citing a 1990 federal-court decision, she noted, “Employers commonly rely on their employees to drive their personal vehicles to arrive at work. This is especially true in rural America where ‘neither public transportation nor car pooling [are] common[.]”

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