S.D. Supreme Court rules against bicyclist who was paralyzed in grate crash

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Court Gavel

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Supreme Court says a circuit judge was right to dismiss a claim brought by a bicyclist against Rapid City’s municipal government.

Julie Godbe was left paralyzed by the crash that happened after her front tire slipped through a street drain. The state’s high court publicly released the decision Thursday.

Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote the majority opinion in support of Circuit Judge Matthew Brown, who ruled that Godbe and her husband, David, hadn’t provided evidence that the grate was damaged. Justice Janine Kern dissented.

The Godbes and a city representative photographed the grate where Julie crashed as well as other grates along the same street. The grate was later removed, but no one deposed by the Godbes knew where it went.

The chief justice said state law doesn’t say whether the government can face legal action for failing to repair damage.

“This is a troubling and tragic case,” Chief Justice Jensen wrote. “By all accounts, City knew the design of its grating system was dangerous to cyclists when it assumed responsibility of the Street in 2004. Julie’s injuries could have been prevented had City acted on this knowledge and replaced the dangerously designed grates as its own guidelines set forth. However, SDCL 31-32-10 does not provide a remedy against a governmental entity for known dangerous design defects on a highway or street, and any expansion of this statutory duty is within the prerogative of the Legislature, not this Court.”

The law requires only that the government “within forty-eight hours of receiving notice of such danger, erect guards over such defect or across such highway of sufficient height, width, and strength to guard the public from accident or injury and shall repair the damage or provide an alternative means of crossing within a reasonable time after receiving notice of the danger.”

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