California Court of Appeal Allows Injured Driver to Pursue Company Responsible for Traffic Light Battery Backup System

When you are injured in an auto accident, one of the most important things you’ll have to decide is if you have a case for damages and, if so, who is liable for the injuries you suffered. While the other driver is an obvious candidate, the facts of your case may indicate that there are others who are liable to you for the harm you suffered. Experienced California car accident attorneys can help you as you make each of these very important decisions.

One case that presented facts that allowed for an action against an arguably unlikely defendant was the lawsuit that arose from a Sept. 4, 2011 crash in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale. Joanne was driving through Glendale late one Sunday when there was a power outage. As she passed through the intersection of Glendale Avenue and Broadway, another vehicle slammed into Joanne’s car. The broadside impact sent Joanne’s vehicle into a pole. Everyone in Joanne’s car was hurt, but she suffered the most severe injuries.

In intersection accidents, there may be a variety of individuals or entities you can potentially sue for the harm you suffered in the crash. This group could include, obviously, the other driver. Also, though, you may be able to sue the governmental entity responsible for the roadway(s) involved if the intersection was designed or maintained in an unsafe fashion. Several injured drivers or passengers have successfully litigated or settled cases recently in which they alleged that an intersection was unsafe either in its design or in its maintenance.

When Joanne was hit and injured, though, there was an extra factual wrinkle to her case. That fact was that the intersection of Glendale and Broadway was regulated by a traffic light, but all of the lights in all directions were dark at the time that Joanne’s crash happened. The traffic light should have operated via a battery backup system during the power outage, but the system failed to power the signal. This fact was important to Joanne’s case because she sued the business responsible for the “preventive and extraordinary maintenance, service, and repairs” on that battery backup system. She also sued the entity responsible for maintaining Glendale’s power grid.

The battery backup company asked the trial court to issue a summary judgment in its favor. It made two arguments as to why Joanne couldn’t win. One, it claimed that its alleged misconduct (failing to maintain the battery backup properly) was too factually remote from the direct cause of Joanne’s harm (the crash) to allow her to hold it legally liable. Two, it argued that it could not be liable because it had no legal duty to the drivers who passed through the intersection where the traffic light was backed up by its system.

The trial court sided with the company, but the Court of Appeal issued a ruling in favor of Joanne that reversed the judgment and revived Joanne’s case. The trial court concluded that the company had no legal duty and couldn’t be liable to Joanne. The appeals court disagreed, deciding that the case Joanne laid out against the battery backup company was a “classic scenario” of something called “negligent undertaking.” Using a “common sense” analysis, the appeals court reasoned that the company had contractually agreed to maintain a battery backup system that would keep traffic lights operational even during times of power outages. Traffic lights exist to protect the safety of drivers, vehicle passengers, and pedestrians. Power outages are not an unforeseeable occurrence in Southern California. In sum, the company promised to do something that would have protected drivers like Joanne, but it did not perform as it had promised. Joanne was entitled to proceed with her case.

When you have been hurt in a vehicle accident, you need skilled advice and representation. The experienced San Mateo car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos have been providing this sort of reliable counsel to our clients for many years. To set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

California Family Wins Appeal that Allows Them to Use Their Relative’s Dying Declaration in Negligence Lawsuit, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published Sept. 25, 2017

Southern California Driver Injured in Intersection Crash Wins Appeal in Legal Action Against Her Underinsured Motorist Insurer, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published Aug. 23, 2017

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