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On November 23, 2021, the Iowa Court of Appeals released its opinion in the Estate of Susan Farrell v. State of Iowa, et al.  At issue in this appeal was the continued viability and applicability of the public duty doctrine.  Plaintiffs sued the State of Iowa, City of West Des Moines, City of Waukee, and various general contractors, engineers, and subcontractors for their collective efforts in developing and building the Grand Prairie Parkway Interchange over Interstate 80.  The Grand Prairie Parkway Interchange was the first diverging-diamond interchange to be constructed in Iowa. On March 26, 2016, an intoxicated driver traveled on the Interchange and down the off-ramp and onto Interstate-80 where he collided head-on with a vehicle in which Des Moines Police Officer, Susan Farrell, was riding.

The Court of Appeals held that the public duty doctrine is alive and well and applicable to this situation where the intoxicated driver was the instrumentality of harm.  The Court distinguished other cases where the harm was caused by an instrumentality owned and operated by a governmental entity.  In short, the public duty doctrine is applicable when the allegations center on a governmental failure to protect the general public from somebody else’s instrumentality.  There was also discussion in the opinion about an exception to the public duty doctrine when there was a special relationship – finding that Iowa’s roadways are held open to the public and no special relationship existed between the governmental defendants and Officer Farrell.

Robert Livingston and Kristopher Madsen represented the State of Iowa and City of West Des Moines.  Apryl DeLange represented the City of Waukee.

It is expected that Plaintiffs will seek further review of this opinion by the Iowa Supreme Court.