Public Entities and Dangerous Condition on Public Property

San Diego public road conditionAssume that you are driving on the highway in the leftmost lane. There are only two lanes going each way. On the outside of the rightmost lane is a soft shoulder. And on the outside of the leftmost lane is a concrete divider. As you are driving, the car in the lane to your right, begins to swerve erratically and drifts close to your lane. The car keeps getting closer and closer, and you are forced to swerve away to avoid impact. You pull your steering wheel hard to the left and crash into the concrete divider.

In a situation such as the one above, could the city or county be liable for the injuries and damage based on the placement of the concrete divider?  The answer is maybe.

In certain cases a public entity, such as a local municipality or city, may be held liable under California Law for injuries occurring due to a dangerous condition on public property. Even though the concrete divider did not cause the accident, a public entity may still be held liable.

In order to establish liability the following must be true.

First, the dangerous condition on public property must create a substantial risk of injury when the property is used in a reasonable manner.

Second, the condition must exist at the time of injury.

Third, the injury must have been “proximately caused” by the condition. Proximate cause is a contributing event or occurrence which lead to a certain result.

Fourth, the condition must have created a “reasonably foreseeable” risk of the type of injury that occurred.

And finally, either the dangerous condition on public property must have been created by the actions or omissions of an employee acting in the scope of their employment or the public entity must have “constructive notice” of the dangerous condition. This constructive notice also requires that the entity had enough time to fix the dangerous condition.

Going back to the above example: (1) the concrete barrier likely did create a substantial risk of injury; (2) the barrier was in place at the time of the accident; (3) the barrier likely played a causal factor in the eventual injury; (4) the placement of the barrier was reasonably likely to result in such an accident; and if either (5) a city employee placed the barrier to close to the lane of traffic or the local department of transportation had “constructive notice” of the dangerous condition; then liability could be established.

These cases are difficult and very fact dependent. A number of immunities exist for the public entity such as, immunities due to weather conditions, immunities based on design and immunities based on failure to provide traffic signage.

If you have been injured as a result of a dangerous condition on public property, then please consult with the personal injury attorneys at Martinez & Schill LLP to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. We work with clients throughout Southern California. There is no cost to you unless and until we win your case. Call 619-512-5995 for our San Diego Office or 951-200-4630 for Riverside.

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