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Defense Summary Judgment in Favor of the City of Long Beach

February 24, 2017

In a dangerous condition of public property claim, partner Greg Amundson and senior associate Jonathan Chen recently obtained summary judgment in favor of the City of Long Beach. A motorcyclist that became paraplegic alleged that a traffic sign blocked the view of a driver, who pulled out in front of him when he entered an intersection. Jonathan Chen drafted the successful Motion for Summary Judgment on behalf of the City based on Government Code § 830.6, which provides public entities with design immunity. The successful motion was a joint effort with the City Attorney’s Office against personal injury firm, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP.

WHY THIS CASE IS IMPORTANT

Traffic signs are ubiquitous for traffic control and safety reasons, but they can also be attacked for being dangerous by blocking the ability to see behind them. A public entity may successfully raise the design immunity defense for claims arising out of a traffic sign if adequate documentation supports the defense. The defense can be successful if there is evidence that a design was reasonable and approved by an individual with discretionary authority.

FACTS

Karl Kuhn was riding his motorcycle on westbound Spring Street when defendant Michael Schaffel pulled out in front of him from southbound San Anseline Avenue. Mr. Kuhn alleged that the location of a limit line on southbound San Anseline Avenue and a “No U-Turn” sign on the median of Spring Street caused Mr. Schaffel’s vision of westbound Spring Street to be obstructed.

After extensive oral argument, the Court granted the City’s Motion for Summary Judgment, holding that the City was able to establish each element of design immunity. First, there was a finding of a causal connection between the design and the accident, as that was alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint. Second, the designs were approved by the City Traffic Engineer, who was an individual with discretionary authority to approve the designs. Third, the designs were reasonable.

Plaintiff’s counsel made several arguments in an effort to defeat the City’s Motion. Plaintiff argued that the one-page drawing for installation of the “No U-Turn” sign could not constitute a design plan, because it was drawn by an employee who was not an engineer and no measurements were taken. However, as pointed out in the City’s brief, there is no requirement that a design be in any particular form, as stated in Thomson v. City of Glendale (1976) 61 Cal.App.3d 378, and the City Traffic Engineer reviewed and approved that drawing. Plaintiff also argued that the City failed to provide substantial evidence that the designs were reasonable, as no engineering studies or analysis were performed. The court did not accept that argument, as the City Traffic Engineer testified that he reviewed and approved the simple design plans. Proper documentation of a design and the approval of the design by an individual with discretionary approval would be prudent to substantiate the design immunity defense.

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