South Dakota Court Rules Pierre Not Liable for Injuries Caused by Trainee

September 24, 2021

The South Dakota Supreme Court, in an opinion released Sept. 23, agreed with a lower court ruling that two people on a motorcycle who were severely injured in a crash with a volunteer firefighting trainee cannot collect damages from the city of Pierre and its fire department.

Lisa Tammen and Randall Jurgens were badly hurt and had their left legs amputated above the knees as the result of the August 1, 2016, crash in rural Hughes County.

Firefighting trainee Gerrit Tronvold was on his way to a department meeting in Pierre when he ran through a stop sign and collided with the victims’ motorcycle. Tronvold was cited for failure to yield.

The circuit court found that the city and the fire department weren’t liable for Tronvold’s actions because he wasn’t acting within the scope of his employment.

Circuit Judge Thomas Trimble rejected arguments for exceptions to what’s known as the ‘going and coming’ rule that protects employers from liability in most instances when their employees are driving to and from work, KELO-TV reported.

Supreme Court Justice Janine Kern wrote the opinion supporting the judge’s decision. Justice Kern said the exceptions didn’t apply because neither the city nor the department “exercised sufficient control nor received a sufficient benefit from Tronvold’s commute.”

“Employers commonly rely on their employees to drive their personal vehicles to arrive at work. This is especially true in rural America where neither public transportation nor car pooling (are) common,” Kern wrote, citing a 1990 federal-court decision.

Topics Legislation South Dakota

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