Department of Highways Owes Duty to One Traveling Portion of the Public Highway on ATV.

February 4, 2008

The Supreme Court recently published Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Guffey, a case resulting from the death of Jeremiah Guffey, who was killed when his ATV struck a cable stretched across an old abandoned section of Hwy. 167 in Wayne Co. The issue before the Court was whether the Department of Highways owed a duty to the operator of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) who is riding his ATV upon a public highway, even though persons are prohibited by statute from operating ATV’s upon public roadways.

The Court agreed “that Jeremiah was a member of the traveling public, even though he was in violation of KRS 189 .515(1). Furthermore, the damages resulting from Jeremiah riding his ATV upon that portion of a public roadway which had been obstructed by a cable stretched across it were certainly foreseeable. And, under the doctrine of comparative negligence, while Jeremiah’s damages may be limited by his actions, his violation of the law does not bar recovery.”

Interesting note regarding the disputed issue over whether the road was a “public highway”. The Court noted that one cannot be in violation of a statute making it an offense to ride an ATV on a public highway, without the road being a public highway in the first place. Also, a person is still a member of the “traveling public” entitled to protection despite minor violations of the law. While comparative fault may apply to Jeremiah’s actions, it does not bar his claim totally.

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