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California Cities May Be Liable for Dangerous Road Conditions

In what could potentially be good news for traffic victims across California, the California Supreme Court has ruled that government entities are not categorically immune from liability in traffic accidents when dangerous conditions may have contributed to causing injury. This is true even when the dangerous road conditions did not directly cause the accident, such as in a fatal 2008 crash in L.A. when a car that was sideswiped by another vehicle crashed into magnolias growing on the grassy center divide.

Lower courts initially ruled that L.A. was not liable for the deaths of all four victims, one of whom was pregnant, because the trees did not cause the negligent driving that led to the crash. The high court disagreed with this interpretation, noting that nothing in the governing statues requires plaintiffs to prove the alleged dangerous road conditions caused the third-party actions that led to the accident. One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers predicted the ruling could lead cities to rethink how much danger trees pose to traffic.

The Supreme Court noted that the trees were purely ornamental. Justice Kruger, who wrote the court’s opinion, stressed the decision will not mean that public entities are liable when cars strike objects necessary to the road system like stop signs and bridge abutments.

This court decision could encourage cities to make their roadways safer by removing ornamental features that may cause injuries in an accident. This could potentially benefit all California drivers.

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