By MIKE DONOGHUE,
Islander Staff Reporter
ISLE LA MOTTE – The Vermont Supreme Court has restored a civil lawsuit filed against the town of Isle La Motte and its road commissioner over claims they failed to properly keep their municipal roads safe.
Paul Civetti, an Alburgh resident, filed the lawsuit claiming he was seriously injured in a car crash on Main Street in Isle La Motte on Aug. 10, 2016. The lawsuit insisted the failure to properly maintain Main Street to appropriate safety standards resulted in Civetti losing control of his car and crashing.
Isle La Motte Road Commissioner Selby L. Turner Jr., who also is the Chairman of the 3-member Selectboard, and the town of Isle La Motte were named as the two defendants in the lawsuit. Turner as the road commissioner is responsible for ensuring town roads meet the Isle La Motte standards, the lawsuit said.
Isle La Motte does not have a public works department. The town contracts for needed work, including snow plowing.
Judge Robert A. Mello had dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that it should have been filed only against the town and not against the road commissioner, but the judge also wrote Isle La Motte has municipal immunity.
The Vermont Supreme Court overturned that ruling in a 3-2 decision released on Friday. The justices ordered the lawsuit sent back to Vermont Superior Court in North Hero for further proceedings.
She was joined by Chief Justice Paul Reiber and now retired Associate Justice Marilyn Skoglund.
Associates Justices Karen Carroll and Harold “Duke” Eaton were in the minority.
Civetti, reached by phone, said he was pleased with the decision.
“We thought we had a good case and that’s why we took it to the Vermont Supreme Court. We are glad the justices agreed.”
Turner said in a telephone interview on Sunday that he was aware of the decision but had not had enough time to digest the 32-page ruling. He said he expects to hear from the town attorney and Isle La Motte’s insurance company, which is through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
Turner said he had alerted the other two Selectboard members in Isle La Motte, which has 18.7 miles in town roads. There are no state highways on the island.
Civetti filed his lawsuit in the Fall of 2018 and Mello dismissed it in early 2019. The Supreme Court heard the legal arguments in May 2019 and deliberated for 11 months before the justices issued the decision.
The lawsuit maintains Main Street does not comply with Isle La Motte road standards, including the width and shoulder. A VTrans traffic study in 2011 showed between 1,100 and 1,600 vehicles per day passed along Main Street in Isle La Motte.
The Islander has reported on a number of motor vehicle crashes in recent years in Isle La Motte. They include an Alburgh fire truck, a propane gas truck, a school bus and a truck hauling blacktop all crashing off Main Street.
Civetti is seeking unspecified damages for the personal injury, pain and suffering, lost income, medical expense, damage to personal property and other expenses, the lawsuit said.
After the lawsuit was instituted, the town of Isle La Motte and Turner filed a written response denying the allegations.
Turner and Isle La Motte had maintained they were immune from lawsuits due to their positions under Vermont law, according to their defense lawyer Brian Monaghan of Burlington.
Turner believes he is not a proper defendant because any lawsuit should be against a municipality, while the town maintains it has sovereign immunity.
Civetti’s lawyer, Pietro Lynn, had written the Isle la Motte officials have known about the substandard road conditions for a longtime and done nothing to correct the problem.
Attached to one of the court filings are minutes from a May 3, 2007 Selectboard meeting with discussion about the longstanding poor condition of Main Street.
The minutes note there was an “in depth discussion” about the narrow shoulder width on Main Street and the several vehicular accidents that had happened.