A municipality or state agency can be responsible for paying damages to victims who died or were seriously injured due to road conditions that the government unit should have corrected or repaired. That was essentially what happened in a recent jury verdict that awarded the family of a deceased 62-year-old man $9.5 million in damages against the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in connection with a fatal crosswalk accident. The award came after a two-week jury trial brought by the family in San Mateo County Superior Court.
The man was walking his bike in a crosswalk in Atherton in Sept. 2010 when a vehicle driven by a Stanford man crashed into him. The jury found the driver only 10 percent liable for causing the accident and put the remainder of the blame on Caltrans. The agency promised to install pedestrian-activated stop lights at the intersection in 2012 after two women were seriously injured in the same crosswalk.
The plaintiff presented expert evidence that established that marked crosswalks without stoplights are actually more dangerous for pedestrians than unmarked ones. The plaintiff also proved that Caltrans knew of the dangerousness of not having stoplights. The theory presented and explained by expert testimony was that marked crosswalks give pedestrians a false sense of security, when actually drivers may not see them in the crosswalk due to other traffic.
It is likely that the plaintiffs presented expert testimony from road designers and engineers, including safety experts, who are particularly knowledgeable on the issue of crosswalks. When a state agency or government unit in California has knowledge of a dangerous condition to motorists and/or pedestrians, it must take reasonable steps to make the condition safe and to help prevent a future crosswalk accident from occurring. Generally, a state or government agency will not be liable if it had no notice or knowledge of the dangerous condition.
Source: almanacnews.com, “Jury: Caltrans 90% responsible for Atherton crosswalk fatality“, Barbara Wood, July 29, 2016