State Appellate Court Reverses Jury Verdict, Granting Immunity to City in Wrongful Death Case

A panel of the California Court of Appeals recently published an opinion reversing a jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiffs after a trial was held over a fatal auto-pedestrian accident that occurred in 2010. The jury had decided that the city was 100% responsible for the death of the plaintiffs’ loved one, a pedestrian who was hit in an intersection by a driver making a left turn. The city’s claim to be protected from liability by “design immunity” was rejected by the trial court because the city approved changes to the intersection where the accident occurred in 2004 but never followed through with the construction, leaving a gap in their immunity. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the state court of appeals interpreted the law differently from the trial court, ultimately granting the city immunity from the plaintiff’s claim.The Jury Finds the City Liable After a 15-Day Trial

The plaintiffs in the case of Gonzalez v. City of Atwater are the surviving family members of a 72-year-old woman who was struck and killed in an intersection administered by the defendant while on foot in December 2010. The driver who hit the woman was making a left-hand turn into a shopping center and stated that she didn’t see the woman walking with the right of way across the crosswalk before she was hit. The plaintiffs sued both the driver and the city, alleging that the city had notice of the danger presented to pedestrians by that specific intersection and had approved modifications to the traffic lights to address the problem, but the changes were never put into effect.

After a 15-day trial in which several experts testified regarding civil engineering and traffic-light design, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and against the city, also finding that the driver who struck the victim was not negligent. Since the plaintiff presented evidence that the intersection design was supposed to be changed in 2004 but never was, the trial judge rejected the city’s claim of design immunity.

Municipal Design Immunity

Ultimately, the City of Atwater was found to be immune from the plaintiff’s claims, even when considering the approved modifications that never were constructed in this case. The court outlined the state’s government and municipal design immunity statute, which is similar to applicable Florida law in that a government or municipal body may not be held responsible for an injury or death in an accident related to a feature that is designed and approved by government employees at their discretion, if such a decision was reasonable at the time.

The court found that the modification plans that were never enacted from the 2004 study had no effect on the reasonableness of the initial intersection plan, which was reasonably approved at the discretion of city employees before its construction. Therefore, the city was immune from liability, and the plaintiff will not be permitted to recover the jury verdict that was initially awarded.

Making an Injury Claim Against a Government Entity in South Florida

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an auto accident or auto-pedestrian accident that was a result of a poorly designed or constructed traffic feature, you may have a claim for damages. Regardless of whether the governmental entity responsible for the road is ultimately found immune from suit, there are private construction companies, employees in their individual capacity, and other drivers who may be liable. There could also be insurance coverage that applies to your claim, regardless of fault.

Do You Have Questions About a Possible Claim?

Contact the South Florida pedestrian accident lawyers at Friedman, Rodman & Frank to find the answers that you’re seeking. Our dedicated and experienced South Florida negligence attorneys have decades of experience helping accident victims seek the compensation that they deserve, and we’d like to help you too. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your personal injury or wrongful death case today. Call our office at 877-448-8585 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Rejection of Plaintiff’s Slip-and-Fall Case Affirmed by Appellate Court on Review, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published December 28, 2016.

Plaintiff in Defective Tire Wrongful Death Case Will Not Have Evidence Excluded for Spoliation, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 4, 2017.

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