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Jenkins v. Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, 2013 UT 59 (October 1, 2013) 

Oct 1, 2013

Avoiding the issue of whether portions of the Utah Governmental Immunity Act violate the open courts clause of the Utah Constitution, the Utah Supreme Court reversed and vacated the Utah Court of Appeals’ opinion, 2012 UT App 204, 283 P.3d 1009, which held it did, on the ground that expert testimony was necessary to establish the relevant standard of care. 2013 UT 59, ¶ 22. The Utah Court of Appeals had determined that “[t]he all-inclusive definition of governmental function” in the Act abrogated a preexisting remedy, did not offer a reasonable alternative remedy, and was not narrowly tailored, thus violating the open courts clause. 2012 UT App 204, ¶ 117. Prior to reaching this issue, it had determined that expert testimony was not needed to establish the relevant standard of care because “[t]he issue of whether three years was a reasonable time to delay replacing” a water pipe after the Water Conservancy District identified it for replacement was “not beyond the knowledge and analytical ability of the average juror.” Id. ¶ 41. The Utah Supreme Court reversed on this issue of expert testimony and vacated the remainder of the court of appeal’s opinion. See 2013 UT 59, ¶ 22. It reasoned that an internal decision by the District to replace the water pipe did “not establish a tort law duty to do so.” Id. ¶ 14. Specifically, the court concluded that without expert testimony, “jurors would be forced to speculate about how a reasonable water conservancy district would act, and about whether the District failed to conform to that standard by failing to replace the [water pipe] earlier.” Id. ¶ 21.