County Road Provides Unsafe Sight Distance

Janssen Malloy LLP recently tried a case against CalTrans and State Parks for failing to provide sufficient sight distance at the exit for Grizzly Creek State Park. Based upon a recent decision by the California Supreme Court a case against Lost Angeles County will head to trial based upon a dangerous condition caused by an inadequate sight distance.

The California Supreme Court yesterday left standing a ruling by a Court of Appeal that allows another woman who was seriously injured because of inadequate sight distance to sue Los Angeles County. The plaintiff (“Barragan”) alleged on the basis of physical evidence and expert opinion that she failed to see the curve around the hill due to poor visibility. When she realized that her right wheels were off the paved road and on the soft shoulder, she pulled strongly to the left, crossed the center line, then over corrected to the right, causing her to crash into the hill, she alleges. The county maintained that  Barragan’s alcohol use, although its own expert agreed that she did not drink close to the legal limit, and inattention to the road caused the rollover, since there were clearly readable signs announcing the curve and the 45 mph speed limit. Barragan did not present the county with a tort claim within the statutory six-month period. In a prior appeal, the court ruled that she was entitled to relief from the presentation requirement based on evidence that her injuries were so serious she did not think to consult a lawyer until she saw an attorney’s television commercial after the time period had run. After that ruling, the county moved to dismiss the action as a sanction for fraud. It cited newly discovered evidence that Barragan’s fiancé had been taking photographs and otherwise investigating the accident, and that her mother had consulted an attorney, who had declined to take the case, during the six-month period.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted the motion to dismiss. A separate motion for summary judgment, based on the merits of the negligence claim, was granted as well.  Justice Richard Aldrich, in his Dec. 5 opinion for the appeals court’s Div. Three, said the judge erred in imposing a terminating sanction based on fraud committed by persons other than the plaintiff, and that the trial judge erred in ruling that the signage rendered the condition not dangerous as a matter of law.

The justice explained that while it was undisputed that a driver using high beam headlights would have seen the signs in time to handle the curve safely, it was disputed whether a reasonable driver would necessarily be using high beams. And the county’s expert, Justice Aldrich noted, conceded that a reasonably cautious driver using low beams would not have seen the signage in time to navigate the curve. The jurist also cited the testimony of the plaintiff’s experts that a driver proceeding at the 45 mile per hour speed recommended by the sign would not have sufficient time to see the curve and safely navigate it. is external).