Court Allows Plaintiff to Proceed with Suit Against County in California Motorcycle Accident Case

The California Court of Appeals reversed a summary judgment order in which the trial court ruled against the plaintiff in a motorcycle accident case. In one recent case, the plaintiff brought a personal injury action against the County to recover for injuries he suffered when his motorcycle went into a drainage ditch alongside a County road. The plaintiff had swerved to avoid hitting the vehicle in front of him, which had suddenly braked, and he was thrown over his motorcycle as he went into the drainage ditch. The plaintiff’s suit alleged that the County’s design and construction of the drainage ditch was negligent, thereby constituting a dangerous, defective, and hazardous road condition.

Generally, under the California Tort Claims Act, a public entity is not liable for any injury unless otherwise allowed by statute. There is, however, an exception if the injury was caused by a dangerous condition on public property. In order to succeed on his claim, the plaintiff must establish that the property was in a dangerous condition when the injury occurred, that the injury was caused by the dangerous condition, and that the dangerous condition created a foreseeable risk of injury of the kind incurred by the plaintiff. The plaintiff must also prove that a public entity employee created the dangerous condition within the scope of his employment negligently or wrongfully, or that the public entity was put on notice of the dangerous condition prior to the injury and timely enough that it could have taken steps to protect against the dangerous condition. The term “dangerous condition” is defined as a condition of property that creates a substantial risk of injury when used with due care in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable that it will be used.

The existence of a dangerous condition is typically a question of fact, but it may be resolved by a court if reasonable minds can come to only one conclusion. In the case, the County filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the risk associated with the drainage ditch was minor or insignificant, and not substantial as required by the statute. The superior court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the County, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court observed that it was foreseeable that a motorist using due care would suddenly need to swerve off the road, propelling him or her onto the shoulder and then into the drainage ditch. The court also analyzed the evidence presented by the County in support of its argument that the risk was minor, noting that the County did not produce evidence establishing the adequacy of the length of the shoulder, nor evidence that the configuration and composition of the ditch did not pose a danger to a motorist running off the road and shoulder. Thus, the court held that whether the location, structure, and composition of the ditch made it a “minor, trivial or insignificant” risk could not be determined as a matter of law from the County’s evidence. The appeals court reversed the judgment and ordered the trial court to issue an order denying the County’s motion for summary judgment.

At the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos, our San Mateo injury lawyers represent victims of motorcycle and car accidents, as well as other accidents, in personal injury cases. We are dedicated to aggressively pursuing compensation from negligent drivers on behalf of the victims and their loved ones. To discuss your case with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at (650) 345-8484 or through our website and schedule your free consultation.

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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 November 4, 2015

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