Arizona Supreme Court: State Entitled to Absolute Immunity for Road’s Original Design Despite Subsequent Material Change to Travel Conditions

In Glazer v. State, 237 Ariz. 160 (2015), the Arizona Supreme Court held that A.R.S. § 12-820.03—an affirmative defense against claims for injuries arising out of an original plan or design for the construction of a roadway so long as the original plan or design complied with generally accepted standards—is available even if subsequent, material changes to travel on the roadway have rendered the original plan or design substandard.  Thus, where plaintiffs asserted that their injuries resulted from the lack of a median barrier—the omission of which complied with generally accepted standards at the time the roadway was constructed in 1967—the state could still invoke the affirmative defense despite evidence that, by the time of the accident in 2006, increases in traffic volume, truck traffic, speed limit, and accidents on that particular stretch of road rendered the lack of a median barrier ultra-hazardous.  The Court emphasized, however, that the affirmative defense does not vitiate a public entity’s common law duty to perform ordinary repair and upkeep on roadways as needed to keep the traveling public safe, or its duty (contained within the statute itself) to provide “reasonably adequate warnings” of any “unreasonably dangerous hazards” so as to allow travelers to take suitable precautions.

Tags: Case Update, Government Liability