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SD Supreme Court finds Rapid City not responsible for bicyclist’s paralysis

UJS GODBE Grate 4.png
Court records
Grate #4

A woman who sued Rapid City after being paralyzed in a 2015 bicycle accident has lost her case before the South Dakota Supreme Court.

Four justices held that a Seventh Circuit judge properly granted summary judgment to the city. But one justice dissented, saying a jury should have decided if the city destroyed evidence and chose to ignore a dangerous road condition.

UJS GODBE accident scene.png
Court Records
The accident scene on East Saint Patrick Street in Rapid City. At bottom is the grate that caused Julie Godbe’s injuries.

Julie Godbe and her husband, David, were riding their bikes along East Saint Patrick Street in July 2015, when Julie’s bike tire fell into a road grate. She was thrown over the handlebars and broke her neck.

At oral arguments in November 2020, her attorney described her condition as incomplete quadriplegia, a permanent injury.

Steven Beardsley told state Supreme Court justices that Rapid City officials had known for several years that parallel grates were dangerous.

He said after the accident, the city tore out almost 100 grates and threw them all in an outdoor pile. That included Grate Number 4, the one that caused Godbe’s accident. And so Grate Number 4 was no longer identifiable as evidence.

Beardsley said whether the city showed bad faith by doing that is a question of material fact that needs to be determined by a jury.

“We have numerous facts that a jury can look at and decide, did they have notice, and did they have constructive notice?” he said.

The city agrees that construction manuals call for removal and replacement of parallel grates.

But lawyer Robert Galbraith said manuals set standards for future construction rather than directing a course of action for existing construction.

“Those manuals since 2007 have called for the placement of perpendicular grates,” Galbraith said. “What those manuals don’t say is ‘immediately go tear up every road you have that’s not in compliance with our new design criteria manual.’”

Four justices found that existing state law does not provide a remedy against the city for knowing of dangerous street design defects, and that the legislature, not the court, has the prerogative to change that.

Justice Janine Kern dissented. She said the case should be remanded to determine if Grate 4 had been damaged, if the city engaged in bad-faith destruction of key evidence, and if the city had constructive notice that the dangerous grates added up to highway damage rather than design defects.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007.