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Court rules insurer not liable in fatal Sutherland accident

Monday, September 13, 2010

SUTHERLAND - The Iowa Court of Appeals has ruled that the City of Sutherland's insurance company is not liable to pay damages to two people having sex in the back seat of its former police chief's pickup when it ran off the road and crashed.

The dispute resulted from a roll-over accident in 2004 that involved former Sutherland Police Chief David Johannsen, his friend Gary Tunink, and Tunink's girlfriend Jodi Munn.

According to a court opinion released last week, Johannsen was driving his personal pickup on a gravel road north of Sutherland about 3 a.m. when he became distracted by the activity in the back seat and lost control of his vehicle, which entered the ditch and rolled several times, throwing Tunink and Munn from the vehicle.

Tunink, who was paralyzed in the wreck, and the estate of Munn, who died, sued Johannsen, the City of Sutherland, and others, contending Johannsen was negligent while acting within the scope of his employment as police chief.

The court of appeals later determined, in a decision previous to the one last week, that the City of Sutherland was not liable because "it stretches the boundaries of credulity" that a police chief would drive around with such activity going on in the back seat as part of his job duties.

Tunink and Munn's estate were later awarded a judgment of $3,250,364 against Johannsen, which he assigned to Sutherland's insurance company, Continental Western Insurance.

Sutherland had three policies with the insurance company, with the company arguing that those policies only covered employees performing duties for the City of Sutherland.

Last week, the Iowa Court of Appeals agreed and found the insurance company was not responsible for paying the judgment against Johannsen.

Johannsen is no longer Sutherland Police Chief and was required to surrender his certificate as a police officer last year as part of his sentence for third-degree theft after he was arrested amid allegations he sold hogs stolen from his employer Liberty Products. Johannsen pleaded guilty in an agreement with prosecutors, who then dismissed felony theft charges in exchange for his plea.

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