Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of California heard a case that was brought against the City of Los Angeles, alleging that the negligent design in the city’s roadway led to injuries and deaths that were preventable had proper care been taken in the road’s design. In the case of Cordova v. City of Los Angeles, the negligent driving of a third party caused the plaintiffs’ vehicle to crash into a magnolia tree that had been planted in the center median by the City of Los Angeles. The case proceeded not against the negligent driver whose actions led to the accident, but against the City itself for the allegedly dangerous condition.
According to the court’s opinion, the case arose after the driver of a Nissan Maxima was hit by another motorist and pushed off the road. As the car left the roadway and entered the median, it struck a large magnolia tree that was in the median. Four of the five people inside the car died as a result of the collision, and one was seriously injured. The parents of three of those inside the car brought a lawsuit against the City, alleging that the tree was dangerously close to the road.
At Trial and On Appeal
The issue at trial was whether the magnolia tree constituted a “dangerous condition” on public property. Both the trial court as well as the appellate court determined that the tree was not a dangerous condition because, among other things, it did not cause the accident. The appellate court noted that there was no allegation that the tree made an accident more likely by obstructing the view of motorists or anything along those lines. The courts both looked at what caused the accident, rather than the added danger that the tree may have presented.