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California Court Rules that Injured Victims May Sue City After Pedestrian Accident

A California Appeals Court has held that the victims of a pedestrian accident may proceed with their personal injury case against the city. In the case, the plaintiffs had pressed the pedestrian warning beacon at a crosswalk before crossing the street. As they proceeded to travel across the road, they were struck by a driver who did not see the warning beacon or the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs filed suit against the city, claiming that the pedestrian crosswalk was a dangerous condition on public property. The city moved for summary judgment, contending that it was covered by government design immunity. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the city, and the plaintiffs appealed.

California law provides that a public entity may be liable for an injury proximately caused by the dangerous condition of its property if the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury sustained, and the public entity had actual or constructive notice of the condition a sufficient time before the injury to have taken preventative measures. A public entity is not liable, however, if the injury is caused by a plan or design to which the public entity reasonably gave its discretionary approval. In order to establish design immunity, the city must show:  (1) a causal relationship between the plan or design and the accident, (2) discretionary approval of the plan or design before the construction or improvement, and (3) substantial evidence supporting the reasonableness of the plan or design.

In the case, the warning beacon was not approved in advance of the construction undergone by the city to the intersection at issue, although the city engineer authorized the placement of the warning beacon afterward. The question for the court, therefore, was whether the city engineer had discretion to approve the warning beacon. The appeals court found that, although the law allows the city engineer to place and maintain traffic control devices, it does not expressly grant the city engineer discretionary authority to approve any plan or design for a traffic control device. The court also refused to recognize “implied” design immunity, holding that the focus of discretional authority to approve a plan or design is fixed by law.

After holding that the city was not immune from suit, the court next addressed the issue of whether there were triable facts as to whether the crosswalk was a dangerous condition. Under California law, a public entity is not liable for minor or trivial property defects that do not create a substantial risk of injury when used with due care. Although pedestrians are expected to use due care, the city cannot expose any pedestrian to an increased risk of harm. In the case, the appeals court held that whether the plaintiff’s failure to look for cars after pressing the warning beacon relieves the city of liability is an issue for the trier of fact to decide. Accordingly, the appeals court reversed the judgment of the lower court, allowing the plaintiffs to proceed with their suit.

The San Mateo attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos are committed to protecting the rights of victims of pedestrian accidents, car crashes, and other negligent acts. Our personal injury attorneys provide experienced, aggressive, and trusted legal representation to individuals pursuing compensation for their injuries, and we can help you determine what legal options are available to you after an accident. To schedule a free consultation with one of our dedicated attorneys, contact our office at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

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California Appeals Court Affirms $15 Million Verdict Against Semi-Truck Operator in Wrongful Death Action, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, Published May 12, 2015

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