Summary Judgment Not Appropriate in Lawsuit Against City Alleging Dangerous Roadway

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.

The State Supreme Court Reverses

Having lost both at trial and on the initial appeal, the plaintiffs appealed again, this time to the California Supreme Court. And this time, they were successful. The court determined that the proper question is not whether the tree caused or contributed to the accident, but whether the dangerous condition caused or contributed to the injury.

While this difference in interpretation may seem trivial, it made the difference in this case because the tree could not logically have been the cause of the accident. However, it very well could have contributed to the cause of the injuries. The Supreme Court of California reversed the decision of the two courts below and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its ruling.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland car accident that you believe was caused by the negligent design or maintenance of a roadway, you may have a cause of action against the municipality in which the road is located. However, as you can see from the case discussed above, these cases are often hard fought and can be uphill battles, given the immunities that state governments enjoy under many circumstances. To learn more about cases against state and local governments, call 410-654-3600 to set up a free consultation with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney.

More Blog Posts:

Federal Appellate Court Discusses Presumption of Negligence in Rear-End Accident Cases, Maryland Accident Law Blog, July 22, 2015.

Federal Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court’s Evidentiary Ruling, Allowing Plaintiff’s Expert Witness’ Testimony, Maryland Accident Law Blog, August 10, 2015.

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