CHARLESTON – West Virginia's highway division improperly escaped responsibility for two deaths, according to state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis.
On Nov. 12, she dissented from an opinion holding that the division's insurer doesn't have to pay for the deaths of Matthew Wrenn and Justin Janes.
Wrenn and Janes drowned after their vehicle dropped off the edge of a single lane bridge and sank in 15 feet of water.
Their estates sued the state Division of Highways in Wyoming County circuit court. The division moved to dismiss, pleading the doctrine of sovereign immunity that generally protects states from liability suits.
The division argued that although insurance covers exceptions to sovereign immunity, its policy excluded claims like this one.
Circuit Judge John Hrko dismissed the suit, and four Justices affirmed him.
Davis wrote in dissent that the decision left the families without a remedy even though the division had been placed on notice as to danger at the bridge.
Months before the accident, she wrote, another motorist died at the same location.
"After the first fatal accident, a second accident occurred when a sheriff deputy's vehicle veered off the bridge and into the impoundment of water thereunder; the sheriff's deputy survived this accident," she wrote.
The division scheduled a meeting on safety concerns but failed to attend, she wrote.
She wrote that the insurance policy clearly provided coverage.
She found "blatant dereliction" of the division's duties.
"The roads and bridges of this state are vital thoroughfares that must be maintained to ensure the safety of our citizenry.," she wrote.