unsafe roadway

Public Entities: Design Immunity

By on March 24, 2015 - Comments off

Martinez v. County of Ventura, (Second District, April 8, 2014) 225 Cal.App.4th 364, 169 Cal.Rptr.3d 880, 14 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 3825, 2014 Daily Journal D.A.R. 4418

A man who was rendered paraplegic when his motorcycle struck an asphalt berm abutting a raised drain on the shoulder of a county road, filed an action against the County.  The plaintiff contended that the defendant’s “top-hat drain system,” a heavy steel cover on three legs elevated eight to ten inches off the ground with a sloped asphalt berm to channel water into the drain, constituted a dangerous condition of public property under Government Code  § 835. The County asserted a number of defenses, including design immunity under § 830.6, which provides that a public entity is not liable for an injury “caused by the plan or design of a construction of, or an improvement to, public property where such plan or design has been approved in advance of the construction or improvement by the legislative body of the public entity or by some other body or employee exercising discretionary authority to give such approval.”

A jury found that the drain system was a dangerous condition that caused the plaintiff’s injuries, but also found for the County on its design immunity claim and rendered a verdict for the defendant.  However, the court of appeal reversed, holding that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to support the jury’s finding of design immunity, and that the jury’s finding of a dangerous condition would be binding on retrial:

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