City of Oakland Pays $750,000.00 to Pedestrian Injured on Sidewalk: An Example of a Dangerous Condition of Public Property Claim

design manualOn September 19, 2007, Monica Orduno was a pedestrian near the intersection of West MacArthur and Martin Luther King Blvd. in Oakland. A car which was making a left turn collided with another vehicle. That car spun out of control and pinned Ms. Orduno against a concrete planter box.

A government claim for personal injuries was filed against the City of Oakland claiming that the intersection was dangerous because it lacked a left turn lane. Ms. Orduono was a working, single mother, who lost her leg in the accident. She had incurred over $750,000.00 in medical bills and expects to incur $2.5 million in future medical expenses.

Not a lot of information is reported about how the lack of the turn lane contributed to the occurrence of the accident. However, it is often the case that there are more factors involved in a car accident than just the motorists involved. Often times, the design of a roadway or intersection, poor lighting, poor signage, inadequate or faded striping, or other features of the roadway can contribute to the causation of a serious personal injury car accident. Therefore, whenever there is an auto accident with catastrophic or permanent injuries, there should be an immediate inspection of the accident scene.

A government is liable for a dangerous condition of the roadway if the following factors are present: First, there must be a dangerous condition of public property, which is defined as a condition that creates a substantial risk of injury to the public, when the property is used in a reasonably foreseeable manner. Second the dangerous condition created a foreseeable risk of the type of accident which occurred. Third, the public entity which owned or controlled the land either created the dangerous condition or had ample notice of the problem long enough before the accident to have had time to fix the problem. And finally, it must be shown that the dangerous condition was a substantial factor in contributing to the accident in question.

The government has numerous defenses and immunities which apply to these types of cases. One of the most common defenses is called a design immunity which protects the government if the design of the particular roadway was made pursuant to a duly approved design. However, even that immunity can be overcome if physical conditions had changed since the original approval of the design.

Due to the complexity of these type auto cases, an immediate investigation must be done before the physical conditions of the accident site change. This involves the hiring of expert witnesses familiar with highway design cases. In a typical highway design case, our office would immediately hire an accident reconstruction expert to examine the scene of the accident, the vehicles involved, and review all pertinent police investigations which were conducted. Additionally, a traffic engineer is retained to analyze the accident scene to see if it comports with traffic safety design standards, and whether it meets standards as set forth in the California Traffic Design manual. Finally, a human factors engineer is hired. This type of expert is a multi-disciplinary expert who has expertise in psychology, engineering, and design who analyzes the design features of the accident scene in light of human beings usual physical and psychological capabilities. Such experts are necessary to prove that a dangerous condition existed and to show how the condition contributed to the actual causation of the accident.

Since these types of cases are generally filed against public entities, such as cities, counties, or the State of California, it is imperative that a government claim be filed within six months of the date of the accident. If a claim is not filed within that time frame, the claim will be barred by law subject to a few, very limited exceptions.

As a car accident lawyer in the Oakland, Alameda area, I have seen over the years how poor roadway design can cause dangerous highway conditions which can contribute to serious auto accidents. Whenever serious accidents occur, it is alway prudent to look at all surrounding circumstances to see if roadway conditions played a part in the crash.

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