California Cities Including Los Angeles Legally Responsible for Dangerous Road Condition
This is a California Supreme Court (Cordova vs. City of Los Angeles) case that addresses the liability of the City of Los Angeles, for the alleged dangerous condition of a road. In this case, there were 5 occupants/plaintiffs in a vehicle driving on the inside lane of Colorado Blvd. Colorado Blvd. has a median strip, with large, established Magnolia trees. Another vehicle side swiped the Plaintiffs’ vehicle. Both vehicles were exceeding the speed limit, although it was disputed as to their precise speeds. As a result of the side swipe, the Plaintiffs’ vehicle spun out, went into the center median, and hit a large tree. 4 of the passengers were killed, and the other passenger was seriously injured. The City of Los Angeles was sued on the theory that there was a dangerous condition, i.e. the trees were too close to the travel portion of the road.
The City filed a motion for summary judgment (MSJ). They argued that the trees and the median did not cause the accident, nor did they cause any of the drivers to drive any differently. It was the car drivers that were the sole and only cause of the accident. The trial court granted the motion, and the case was over. The Plaintiffs appealed, and the appellate court agreed with the trial court. The Plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court.
The California Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts, and reversed the granting of the MSJ. They noted a number of reasons as to why the lower courts, and the City were incorrect. First, there a number of immunities that are given to a public entity, such as a city, county, or the state. However, a public entity is liable if there is a “dangerous condition” that causes an injury. The City here argued that if there was a dangerous condition, it did not cause of the accident, nor cause the conduct of the third party that gave rise to the accident. It was based on this argument that the MSJ was granted. However, the Supreme Court stated that the statute that makes a public entity liable for a dangerous condition, is not based on the condition causing the accident, but rather, whether or not the condition causes the injury. Here the trees did not cause the accident, but they did cause the deaths.
Here the center median with the large trees could have constituted a dangerous condition, and as a result of that dangerous condition, caused the injury, i.e. the deaths and serious injuries. The court was not concluding that there was a dangerous condition, however. The Supreme Court was only stating that an MSJ could not be granted on the grounds that a dangerous condition needed to cause the accident.
The case was now sent back down to the trial court. It would be left to the trial court, and the parties, to conclude if the presence of the trees was a dangerous condition, that did cause the injuries and death.