April 24th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in Dodge City Implement, Inc v. Board of Barber County Commissioners (No. 96,784) a negligence suit arising out of a truck-train collision in 2003. In a unanimous decision, written by Justice Beier, the court affirmed the Court of Appeals (the opinion of which was quoted extensively) decision which in turn affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the suit as barred under Kansas’ “one-action” rule. Note: this was the only decision issued this week.
In September 2003, a DCI truck was hit by a Burlington Northern and Santa Fe train at a railroad crossing in Barber County. The collision resulted in damage to the truck and the derailment of the train. BNSF sued DCI, who ultimately settled for $3m in damages. DCI then initiated a case against Barber County (and subsequently Moore Township, following discovery findings regarding responsibilities for the crossing). DCI sought the $3m from the BNSF settlement, plus around $90,000 in damages to their truck. The District Court dismissed the case in a summary judgement finding that since Barber County and Moore Township had not been joined to BNSF’s lawsuit, DCI could not bring a separate case against them under Kansas’ “one-action” rule. The District Court also dismissed the separate negligence claim for $90,000, finding that DCI’s notification to the defendants under the Kansas Tort Claims Act did not meet the statutory requirements.
DCI appealed these rulings and lost in the Court of Appeals. DCI appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, where it also lost. The Kansas Supreme Court decision spends the bulk of its time reviewing the “one-action” rule, its origins and its apparent exceptions. It concludes that the rule (which basically requires all liability claims to be handled through a single case in which comparative fault between several parties can be determined) remains valid. The rule has its origins in a 1974 law, but had been confused by a line of cases which did not seem to apply it. The Court’s opinion investigates these and differentiates them from the main rule, which it applies in this case. As indicated above, a sizable portion of the Court’s opinion is actually a direct quote from the Court of Appeals opinion of Judge Nancy Caplinger, which is effusively praised by Justice Beier.
On the second point (the $90,000 claim) the Kansas Supreme Court also rules against DCI. It notes that the Court of Appeals has decided multiple cases regarding the Kansas Tort Claims Act based on a kind of checklist of the notice requirements of that statute. In this opinion the Kansas Supreme Court declines to make an endorsement or otherwise of that approach, but finds that the notices sent by DCI in this case were so deficient that they could not meet the statutory rule.