Magana Cathcart & McCarthy

High Court Finds Los Angeles May be Liable in Car Accident


The Supreme Court of California recently handed down an important decision for victims of car accidents, finding that a California municipality may be liable for a victim’s injuries where it is alleged that a dangerous condition on city property caused the injury that the victim suffered, even where another driver may have caused the accident in the first place. The case of Cordova v. City of Los Angeles arose from a tragic crash in Eagle Rock in 2008 in which four people died after a car spun out and crashed into a Magnolia tree. Witnesses at the time said that two cars had been speeding along Colorado Blvd. well in excess of the speed limit when one car veered into a second car, sending it spinning into the grassy median and into a large tree, killing four occupants of the car and seriously injuring another. Family members of several of the victims brought a wrongful death suit against the City of Los Angeles, arguing that the city was liable for allowing the dangerous condition of maintaining large trees so close to the road.

The family’s claims against the city were initially dismissed by the trial court which ruled that the city could not be liable because the placement of the trees on the median did not actually cause the conduct that led to the crash, meaning the trees did not cause the other driver to drive at unsafe speeds or crash into the victims’ car. The Supreme Court disagreed with this ruling and held that, so long as the allegedly dangerous condition of having the trees in the median was a cause of the victims’ injuries, the city could be at least partially liable under a California state law that makes public entities liable for injuries where the dangerous condition created a foreseeable risk of injury to potential victims. The court also said that the city could be liable even though the victims’ injuries may have initially been caused by the impact of the other driver’s car on theirs, as those injuries would have been made worse by the impact of the tree (indeed, four members of the car died even though they were all wearing seat belts).

What this decision means for victims of car crashes in California is that a public entity such as a city can be liable to a plaintiff for his or her injuries (or to a deceased victim’s family in a wrongful death suit) where the injuries were made worse by the presence of a dangerous condition on city property, such as a road divider maintained in a dangerous condition or negligently designed roadway, even where another driver is clearly at fault in causing the accident.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a Los Angeles car accident, contact Magaña, Cathcart, & McCarthy to discuss your case.

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