Louisiana Record

Monday, December 9, 2019

Immunity granted to Juneau in lawsuit over tubing death of teenage girl

State Court

By Marian Johns | Oct 8, 2019

Aukelake
Auke Lake | Wikipedia

JUNEAU, Alaska (Legal Newsline) – The Alaska Supreme Court has affirmed a ruling that granted the municipality of Juneau discretionary function immunity in a lawsuit involving a mother suing over the death of her teenage daughter from an accident in a Juneau lake owned by the State.

According to the Sept. 6 filing, appellant Sunny Haight, as personal representative of the estate of Savannah Cayce, appealed the lower court's granting of summary judgment to appellee City & Borough of Juneau based on discretionary function immunity.

"Because the Superior Court correctly applied the doctrine of discretionary function immunity, we affirm its decision," Justice Daniel Winfree wrote.

The ruling states discretionary function immunity "bars claims for damages against municipalities for acts and omissions falling within discretionary governmental functions."

Haight sued the City & Borough of Juneau after her daughter, Cayce, died following a June 2012 accident on Auke Lake. Cayce suffered a serious head injury after the inflatable raft she was riding on, which was pulled by a motorized watercraft, swung into another watercraft. Haight alleged the city and borough negligently failed to ensure safe operation of motorized watercraft on Auke Lake. The appellees had sought summary judgment based on discretionary function immunity.

Haight contended that "the city owed a duty of care to lake users and that it breached its duty by failing to take adequate measures to reduce safety hazards created by motorized watercraft," the opinion states. "She asserted that the city should have established a speed limit, a horsepower limit, and traffic patterns for motorized watercraft and should have posted warning signs regarding safe use of the lake." 

However, the Superior Court disagreed, stating the suggested actions are policy decisions for the city assembly that are protected by discretionary function immunity.

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