Court grants summary judgment in bridge lawsuit

By Thomas Wilson

   A Circuit Court ruling has granted Carter County government a summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by a Roan Mountain couple involving a wagon accident that occurred over two years ago on a rural one-lane bridge crossing the Doe River.
   John R. Reed and Margaret Reed filed a lawsuit in Carter County Circuit Court last August alleging negligence against the county resulting from an accident that occurred on Old Railroad Grade Road in Roan Mountain in August 2000.
   Judge Jean Stanley granted the county's motion for summary judgment last week.
   According to Stanley's written order, the bridge was not found dangerous and the county did not act negligently in the time period when guardrails were installed on the bridge two weeks before the Reeds' accident.
   Their lawsuit stated that the couple was crossing the bridge in a covered wagon on Old Railroad Grade Road in August 2000. The filing reads that the wagon was being pulled by a horse and a mule.
   The mule side-stepped a puddle of water on the bridge and slipped off the bridge, subsequently pulling the horse and wagon carrying the couple across the bridge, according to the Reeds' filing.
   John Reed was thrown forward but managed to grab a section of the bridge to avoid falling into the river, according to the suit. The mule had to be cut from its harness and fell into the river sustaining injuries, the suit read.
   The Reeds had sought a total of $530,000 in compensatory damages against the county, according to the initial lawsuit.
   Margaret Reed stated in her deposition she had repeatedly complained about the safety of the bridge to county Highway Superintendent Jack Perkins.
   In their answer to the suit, the county denied ownership of the bridge but acknowledged they had maintained the bridge.
   The court ruled the bridge could not be identified as "defective, unsafe or dangerous" given that there had been no accidents at the bridge except for one drunk driver since the bridge was built between 1916 and 1918.
   The couple had complained about the bridge's safety and had requested guardrails to be installed on the bridge. Stanley's order stated it was a discretionary function to install guardrails on the bridge and that Perkins ordered guardrails to be installed "some two weeks" before the Reeds were injured.
   Stanley ruled there was no evidence of negligence in the two-week delay citing that " ... despite Plaintiffs' complaints, there had been no accidents or injuries involving sober persons in over 80 years."
   Costs of the action were taxed primarily to the plaintiffs, according to the order.