California Appellate Court Upholds Jury Verdict that Dangerous Condition Had Not Caused Plaintiff’s Single-Vehicle Accident

In a recent case before the California Court of Appeal, the court addressed a plaintiff’s allegations of error concerning the trial court’s exclusion of evidence in her single-vehicle personal injury lawsuit.  The court analyzed whether the plaintiff had met the elements of showing that a dangerous condition of public property existed on the road.  They also made clear that the standard on review was whether there was a reasonable probability the jury would have reached a result more favorable to the plaintiff, had there been no error.

The plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the State of California for severe and permanent injuries she suffered in an accident on State Route 127 in July 2012.  She contended that a puddle on the road caused her vehicle to veer and roll over.  On behalf of the state, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) prevailed in a jury trial, when the jury found no dangerous condition existed.

In her appeal, the plaintiff contended that it had been a prejudicial error to exclude testimony from her biomechanical expert and a witness to the accident. Regarding the biomechanical expert, whom the plaintiff had designated to testify regarding how her injuries occurred during the car accident, Caltrans had contended that the expert was not qualified to offer opinions on the topic of accident reconstruction and traffic engineering.  The expert was going to testify regarding the number of rollovers that took place in the accident.

The plaintiff argued that by excluding this evidence, the jury would not be shown that she was not speeding at the time of the accident.  The appellate court stated that when reviewing excluded evidence, the judgment is not reversed unless there is a reasonable probability the jury would have reached a result that was more favorable to the plaintiff without the error.

Here, the expert testimony was intended to show that the plaintiff had not been speeding. The appellate court stated that other evidence showed she had not been speeding.  Regardless, though, the court stated the jury verdict showed that it never reached the question of whether the plaintiff had been speeding.

According to the law, a dangerous condition exists when the risk of injury is substantial when the property is used with due care.  The appellate court cited case law that indicated that the question is not whether the plaintiff was using due care, but whether there was a risk of injury to people who were exercising due care.  Whether a plaintiff was negligent does not bear upon a determination of the existence of a “dangerous condition.”

The court here stated that the jury had been asked to determine whether a dangerous condition existed, without regard to whether the plaintiff had been exercising due care. Whether the plaintiff had been speeding and not using reasonable care was in fact irrelevant.

Since the jury determined that the road was not in a dangerous condition, they did not reach the elements of causation or comparative fault. Hence, the court stated, there was no probability that the expert’s testimony regarding the plaintiff’s speed would have changed the outcome of the trial.

The court also held it was appropriate that the lower court precluded testimony about rain and puddles 10 miles north of the accident site.  The plaintiff contended that this evidence showed that the Caltrans employee had notice of rain and puddling. But the appellate court stated it was proper for the court to limit the expert’s observations of conditions to the accident site.

Accident victims asserting claims for compensation must set forth documented and competent evidence in support of their cases. At Sharifi Firm, we represent individuals and their families as they assert their legal rights to recover compensation from all at-fault parties.  Contact our office for a free, no-obligation consultation with a skilled car accident attorney.  We can be reached by calling 1-866-422-7222 or completing our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Upholds Decision Car Insurer Not Liable for Negligence Per Se, Plaintiff Prevented From Claiming Car Not Total Loss After Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, May 25, 2017

California Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Contention City was Liable for Dangerous Condition at Intersection Following Pedestrian Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, May 22, 2017

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