In an unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal recently held that the County of Los Angeles was immune from liability following a motorcycle collision in Big Tujunga Canyon Road in Angeles National Forest. After suffering serious injuries, the injured plaintiff brought claims of a dangerous condition of public property as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. The County invoked both design and sign immunity, arguing that they could not be found legally responsible in the lawsuit. On appeal, the court reviewed the evidence in support of these immunities and affirmed the holding in favor of the County after reviewing.
The facts of this lawsuit demonstrated that Karim Kamal had been riding his motorcycle eastbound on Big Tujunga Canyon Road, in Angeles National Forest, and was struck by Samuel Morales, on his own motorcycle, as Mr. Morales crossed the dividing line and entered Mr. Kamal’s traffic lane in an effort to pass another vehicle. The collision resulted in permanent, serious injuries to Mr. Kamal, and the cause of the collision was deemed to be Mr. Morales’ speed, in violation of the Vehicle Code.
Mr. Kamal filed a complaint against Mr. Morales, the County of Los Angeles, and the State of California for a dangerous condition of public property, negligence in maintaining a roadway without signs, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The County moved for summary judgment based on both design and sign immunity and the fact that Big Tujunga Canyon Road did not constitute a dangerous condition of public property under Government Code Section 835. Mr. Kamal opposed the motion, and it was ultimately granted in favor of the County.
On appeal, Mr. Kamal contended the trial court erred in granting the summary judgment motion when triable issues of fact remained concerning design immunity. The court of appeals stated that California law sets forth a public entity’s liability for personal injury by statute, and in the case at hand, Section 835 of the Government Code makes clear that the government may be held liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions of public property under certain circumstances.
Mr. Kamal argued that the trial court erred when it ruled that the County had design immunity because there was not enough evidence in support of this immunity. But on appeal, the court stated the County presented enough evidence, and a defendant need not prove its design or plan was actually reasonable. Instead, the court stated a defendant must show evidence that a public employee could have approved the sign and that it was in fact approved.
Here, the Court of Appeals reviewed the evidence, including a declaration from a City engineer who authenticated County design plans. Evidence also included a declaration from an engineer who formerly worked with the County and who explained the design approval process for Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Mr. Kamal had not offered evidence in opposition.
The Court of Appeal stated that the County’s evidence sufficiently established the design immunity defense, shifting the burden to Mr. Kamal. The Court noted that while a more involved design plan approval process might take place today, that does not defeat the County’s design immunity defense.
Regarding the County’s invocation of sign immunity, the rule is that a dangerous condition of public property involves a condition that creates a substantial rather than minor risk of injury when the property is used with due care. Here, Mr. Kamal argued that Big Tujunga Canyon Road was a dangerous condition of public property because it lacked speed limit signs and warning signs indicating an upcoming sharp curve in the road. Mr. Kamal’s argument was that appropriate signage would have deterred Mr. Morales from riding his motorcycle in the manner that he did, ultimately causing the collision.
The court stated the rule of section 830.4, and section 830.8 of the Government Code concerning public entity liability when there is a traffic “trap” due to inadequate signage. According to published cases, liability based on regulatory signs is barred except when there is a roadway that leads to a “trap to the motorist.” The Court stated that the curves, the surface conditions, and the grade of Big Tujunga Canyon Road would be apparent to a driver, such as Mr. Morales, and would not require road signs to avoid a “trap,” particularly since the basic speed law sufficiently regulates those conditions.
Due care, according to the Court of Appeals, includes abiding by basic speed laws and not driving into opposing lanes of traffic on curved roadways. The Court also stated that a public entity need not post warning signs of readily apparent natural topography to avoid creating a dangerous condition of public property.
Regarding Big Tujunga Road, the Court stated that the roadway is in a mountain area, and the features of the roadway there are part of its topography. Sign immunity in an area like this was appropriate. In sum, there was no duty to post signs warning of a condition that was reasonably apparent to motorists. Mr. Kamal had not shown that the characteristics of the road, including limited shoulders, hillsides, and cliffs, were concealed.
At Sharifi Firm, we help victims of motorcycle accidents in Southern California pursue compensation for their injuries. We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 1-866-422-7222.
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