|September 15, 2011|
Evidence of prior, dissimilar incidents are inadmissible to prove a public entity’s notice of a dangerous condition of public property. That is the conclusion the Third Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal reached in a recent, published decision that may help public entities defend against dangerous condition claims. The case, Salas v. California Department of Transportation, arose from the death of a pedestrian who was struck by a car at an intersection in Victor, California. Plaintiffs, the survivors of the decedent, sued Cal Trans, claiming a lack of proper signage, failure to design signage, failure to follow recommended standards as to the location of the crosswalk, and failure to control speed in the area created a dangerous condition of public property.
CalTrans moved for summary judgment, arguing the physical nature of the intersection and the lack of vehicle versus pedestrian collisions at the accident location demonstrated no dangerous condition existed. In opposition, Plaintiffs proffered traffic collision reports showing there were 23 prior accidents at and around the intersection, all of which were vehicle collisions. Additionally, Plaintiffs’ expert opined that the accidents and volume at the intersection could be controlled through the installation of an all-way stop sign or traffic signal.
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling of summary judgment in favor of CalTrans. It held that no dangerous condition existed at the intersection for three reasons. First, it was undisputed that the intersection had no “blind corners, obscured sightlines, elevation variances, or any other unusual condition that made the road unsafe when used by motorists and pedestrians exercising due care.” Second, CalTrans established the marking and signage at the intersection was sufficient and included a marked crosswalk and three signs notifying motorists of an approaching intersection and crosswalk. Third, and perhaps most significant, the accident history indicated no other collisions involving pedestrians had occurred in the ten years preceding the accident. The court excluded Plaintiffs’ evidence of prior accidents because they were not similar to the accident at issue and none involved a pedestrian. It noted that “while there must be substantial similarity to offer other accident evidence for any purpose, a stricter degree of substantial similarity is required when other accident evidence is offered to show a dangerous condition.” The Court refused to consider the prior accidents because they did not meet this stringent standard.
The Salas decision affirms that only substantially similar prior accidents are probative of notice of a dangerous condition. To discuss the Salas decision or dangerous condition claims generally, please contact our office