Can trees planted in a traffic median pose a foreseeable danger to motorists?
Maybe, according to the California Supreme Court. Recently, the court ruled in Cordova v. City of Los Angeles that it’s possible the trees could be considered a dangerous condition of property if a jury deemed the risk was reasonably foreseeable. The city had argued it couldn’t be liable as a matter of law because the trees hadn’t caused the reckless driving of a third-party that resulted in the deaths of four young people and the serious injury of another.
However, the court determined it was not necessary for plaintiffs (representatives of decedents’ estates) to prove the trees caused the man’s reckless driving. Rather, it was only necessary for them to prove the trees were a dangerous condition that caused the injuries.
Cases like this show the ways in which a car accident lawsuit can involve complex legal matters. People have this tendency to think car accident cases are relatively straightforward in terms of negligence, liability and damages. However, there is often more to it than that, which is why hiring just any accident lawyer won’t benefit you. Injury victims should seek out a Fort Myers auto accident lawyer with adequate resources and proven experience and success.
Here, according to court record, a woman and four passengers were traveling on the inside lane of a divided roadway. As they approached an intersection, another vehicle veered into her lane. Although both sides dispute the speed of the vehicles, it’s generally agreed both cars were traveling well over the posted 35 mph speed limit. The impact of that crash sent the vehicle with five occupants spinning out-of-control. As it did so, it swung into the median and struck a row of several magnolia trees that were planted in that median, some seven feet from the roadway.
Even though all occupants were wearing seat belts, four were killed. The fifth suffered severe injuries.
At-fault driver was arrested at the scene and later convicted of four counts of vehicular manslaughter.
Later, plaintiffs – parents of three of those killed – filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, alleging the trees posed a dangerous condition because they were located too close to the travel portion of the road. They asserted the city should have realized the danger posed to drivers who might lose control of their vehicles. Plaintiffs claimed this was a dangerous condition that proximately caused the injuries of their children.
City moved for summary judgment, saying the dangerous condition did not cause the reckless driving, which was the cause of decedents’ injuries.
In response, plaintiffs submitted numerous declarations from expert witnesses asserting the trees were too close to the road, and even provided several published, peer-reviewed studies asserting the same. There was also an analysis of 150 traffic accidents that occurred on that same portion of road, citing similar issues.
District court granted summary judgment to city and appeals court affirmed. However, the state high court reversed.
It’s not necessary, the court ruled, for the plaintiff to prove the trees caused the at-fault driver to operate his vehicle recklessly. Instead, plaintiffs need only show the trees were a proximate cause of decedents’ fatal injuries.
Thus, the case was remanded back to the lower court for trial.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Cordova v. City of Los Angeles , Aug. 13, 2015, California Supreme Court
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