California Appellate Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of Town When Plaintiffs Failed to Create Triable Issue of Fact Regarding Dangerous Condition of Property

Recently, the California Court of Appeal reviewed a judgment in favor of the Town of Moraga in a premises liability case.  In this opinion, the court addressed the plaintiffs’ claims that the Town had maintained a dangerous condition of public property related to a barricade near a street parade for the Fourth of July.  Ultimately, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ allegations and affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment.

fireworks premises liability

On appeal, the court stated that Government Claims Act, Section 835, sets forth conditions that may hold a public entity liable for injuries. Public entities can be liable if the property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the injury, the injury was caused by the condition, and the kind of injury was a reasonably foreseeable result of the dangerous condition. Public property is in a dangerous condition according to the Act when it is physically damaged, deteriorated, or defective in a way that endangers those using the property.

On July 4, 2010, plaintiffs Kathleen and Benjamin Bjornstad left their home in the Town of Moraga, California, to watch fireworks at a display. Stephen Holbrook drove his mobility scooter while the others walked, since Stephen has been unable to walk since the mid-1990s.  They took the same route they had traveled for more than 10 years on their way to the fireworks display.

A permanent barricade was located at the west end of the sidewalk, and on that particular night there were temporary “sawhorse” barricades, located in the street near the ramp.  After the fireworks, Benjamin led the way back, followed by Stephen.  A nearby streetlight was not functioning, and the area remained darker than in previous years.  Benjamin stopped near the temporary barricade and saw Stephen drive off the sidewalk and fall in the street, about eight feet from the ramp. Stephen suffered multiple injuries, including brain injuries.

The plaintiffs sued the Town of Moraga, claiming a dangerous condition of public property and loss of consortium. They argued that the ramp design, temporary barricade, and inadequate lighting rendered the area a dangerous condition.  They alleged that Stephen mistook the temporary barricade in the curb ramp for the permanent barricade at the end of the sidewalk.  He misjudged the location of the ramp.  According to the plaintiffs, if the ramp had been marked with a different color or texture, he would have realized his mistake before driving off the sidewalk.  They also suggested that adequate lighting would have allowed Stephen to determine the temporary barricade was not the permanent barricade.

The lower court granted summary judgment to the Town after they contended the facts did not show a dangerous condition existed, any dangerous condition caused the injuries, or the Town had notice of a dangerous condition.

On appeal, the court stated the Government Claims Act provides that public entities may be liable for injuries if the plaintiff shows the property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the injury, the injury was proximately caused by the condition, and the condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that was incurred.  The plaintiff must also show that either a negligent act of an employee of the public entity created the dangerous condition, or the public entity had notice and sufficient time to take measures against the condition.  Property that is physically damaged, defective, or deteriorated is in a dangerous condition, according to section 835.

First, the appellate court rejected the allegation the Town could be liable for someone having moved the barricade onto the ramp. The court stated that the inference proposed by the plaintiffs – that a police car was seen driving toward the ramp shortly before the incident – was too speculative and did not make it foreseeable that an unattended barricade would be moved 10 to 20 feet onto a curb ramp.

Next, the court discussed the plaintiffs’ claim that the ramp design and the lack of detectable warnings created a dangerous condition.  The rule of law is that a dangerous condition is one that creates a substantial risk of injury when property is used with due care in a foreseeable manner.  Liability is to be imposed only when there is a substantial danger that is not apparent to those using the property in a reasonably foreseeable manner, and with due care.  In other words, a public entity cannot be held liable for a danger on its property that is readily apparent.

The court rejected the claim that the lack of warnings rendered the ramp a dangerous condition. They stated there were no detectable warnings, and a person using due care would approach slowly or perhaps ask for help from companions.

Next, the court stated that the allegation of inadequate lighting due to a broken streetlight must be rejected because public entities are under no duty to light their streets. A duty to light may only lie when there is a peculiar condition making lighting necessary, but an absence of street lighting itself does not constitute a dangerous condition.  The court stated that the plaintiffs failed to show a triable issue of fact on the issue of inadequate lighting, and it was therefore unnecessary to decide whether the Town had actual or constructive notice of the broken streetlight.

The court of appeal affirmed the judgment in favor of the Town.

If you have been injured in a slip and fall situation or any other accident, contact the skilled Southern California premises liability attorneys at Sharifi Firm.  We are available for a free consultation. Contact our office at 1-866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Appellate Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of City When Plaintiff Failed to Show Knowledge of Dangerous Condition of Sidewalk, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 13, 2016

California Court Finds Plaintiff Pursuing Premises Liability Claim Did Not Prove Property Owner Knew of Dangerous Condition of Stairwell, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 11, 2016

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