Crosswalk signals are intended to make pedestrians safer when crossing the street, particularly at intersections. But they may not always achieve this goal.
A 2007 study by the AAA Foundation for traffic safety revealed traffic signals were problematic for pedestrians over age 65 because they changed too quickly, failing to allow them additional time to safely get across. There was also evidence that pedestrians don’t always understand the nuances of the traditional pedestrian signal countdown. That too affects their behavior and walking speed, which could in turn increase the risk of a crash.
In the recent case of Castro v. City of Thousand Oaks, the complaint involves an assertion the crosswalk signal was flawed, giving pedestrians the feeling they were safe when in fact they were not. The lawsuit was filed against the city for injuries. After a trial court granted summary judgment to the city, a California appellate court reversed, finding a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the intersection/crosswalk posed a substantial risk of injury to a pedestrian who is exercising due care.
According to court records, facts giving rise to the complaint occurred in May 2012. At that time, a woman was preparing to cross the street with two young children in her care. The woman pushed the pedestrian signal button to activate the pedestrian warning beacon before crossing. She saw a vehicle stop at the intersection, and then she proceeded to move across the street. She was pushing a stroller with one hand and was holding the hand of the other young child as she walked.
However, mid-intersection, a driver operating a van struck the trio, causing the woman and both children to fly into the air upon impact. They all sustained personal injuries as a result of the pedestrian accident.
The van driver denied seeing either the pedestrian beacon or the pedestrians themselves.
In the two years prior to the crash, there had been some safety improvements to the intersection, including “pedestrian ahead” warning signals and words written on the pavement. Original plans didn’t include a pedestrian warning beacon, but after the project was approved by city council, the city engineer authorized the traffic engineering manager to buy and install one.
Plaintiffs in this case would later argue the intersection and crosswalk created a dangerous condition because there was a high volume of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, obscured crosswalk sign, numerous visual distractions and less-than-optimal warnings.
City argued first, the action was barred by design immunity, and second, it would defy logic to make the city liable for adding additional safety features.
Trial court issued a summary judgment in favor of city, but the California Court of Appeals, Second Appellate District, Division Six, reversed.
The court ruled the city engineer’s authority to buy and install traffic control devices doesn’t establish design immunity or discretionary authority. Further, the city tried to assert it the city engineer and traffic manager had discretionary authority to install these signs, and provided as the only legal basis for this argument the city code. This would have erased many years of court precedent.
Appeals court noted it was appreciative of the fact city was trying to add a safety feature that would help prevent accidents. However, a design isn’t discretionary simply because an engineer approved his or her own safety idea.
What’s more, there were triable issues of material fact that indicated the crosswalk was dangerous.
Although the appeals court stopped short of deciding the case in plaintiff’s favor, it did find plaintiff had grounds to have the case heard by a jury.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Castro v. City of Thousand Oaks, Aug. 31, 2015, California Court of Appeals, Second Appellate District, Division Six
More Blog Entries:
Second Trucking Accident Lawsuit Filed as Driver Named a Fugitive, Aug. 12, 2015, Orlando Pedestrian Accident Attorney Blog