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Steward ex rel. Estate of Davis v. State

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 11, 2014

SHIRLEY A. STEWARD, Personal Representative of the Estate of LEAH F. DAVIS, and WARREN DAVIS, Appellants,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Michael A. MacDonald, Judge. Superior Court No. 4FA-07-02278 CI.

Allen Vacura, Stepovich & Vacura Law Office, Fairbanks, for Appellants.

Dario Borghesan, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

Page 861

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Following a fatal car crash, the estate and the surviving spouse of the car's driver sued

Page 862

the State of Alaska under separate negligence theories. The superior court granted the State summary judgment on one claim, and a jury found in the State's favor on the remaining claim. The estate and the surviving spouse appeal. Because we see no prejudicial error, we affirm the superior court's judgment.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Leah Davis was driving north on the Richardson Highway. Near milepost 330, a southbound United States Postal Service vehicle crossed the centerline and struck Davis's car. The crash caused Davis's car to skid across the southbound lane, cross the shoulder, and enter the Tanana River. The car submerged and Davis drowned. Alaska State Trooper Joseph Harris led the accident investigation at the site.

There was no guardrail at milepost 330 at the time of the accident. During a 1994 erosion control project along the highway and Tanana River, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities removed a then-existing guardrail. The project's study report concluded that the redesigned highway shoulder and riverbank would " provide adequate clear zone width to eliminate [the] guardrail." The study also stated that " the engineer will make a field decision" regarding the erosion control design to be used and that the " existing guardrail [is] to be removed." The State did not replace the guardrail.

Shirley Steward, the personal representative of Davis's estate, and Warren Davis, Davis's surviving spouse, filed a lawsuit against the State.[1] Steward alleged the State negligently failed to reinstall a guardrail at milepost 330 and negligently failed to construct and maintain an adequate clear zone -- ...


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