Los Angeles Partners Secure Summary Judgment For Caltrans In Lawsuit Over Freeway Worksite Accident

Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP


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The lawsuit stemmed from a February 2020 accident on a construction site on the SR-60 Freeway near Montebello.
United States Real Estate and Construction
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Los Angeles, Calif. (June 4, 2024) - Los Angeles Partners David Samuels and Heather Hamby recently secured summary judgment for the State of California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in a lawsuit over an accident on a freeway construction site, with a Los Angeles Superior Court judge finding that Caltrans is immune from the plaintiff's claims.

The lawsuit stemmed from a February 2020 accident on a construction site on the SR-60 Freeway near Montebello. The accident occurred when a driver in the far-right lane struck the rear of another vehicle, causing that vehicle to careen across four lanes of traffic - including three that had been blocked off with cones - and ultimately strike the parked work truck of the plaintiff, who was working for a contractor hired by the project supervisor and Caltrans.

The plaintiff suffered injuries in the accident and proceeded to sue the project supervisor and Caltrans. He asserted claims for negligence against the supervisor, statutory liability/dangerous condition on public property against Caltrans, and loss of consortium against both defendants.

Represented by Mr. Samuels and Ms. Hamby, Caltrans moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was immune from liability under Government Code sections 830.8 and 845; that the reckless driving of the motorist who initiated the accident was not reasonably foreseeable; and that under the Privette doctrine it was not liable because it had properly delegated the duty to provide a safe work environment on the construction site to the contractors and subcontractors.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lynne M. Hobbs agreed with Caltrans' assertions. She found that Caltrans was immune from the plaintiff's statutory liability/dangerous condition on public property claim under Government Code section 830.8, which generally establishes that neither "a public entity nor a public employee is liable under this chapter for an injury caused by the failure to provide traffic or warning signals, signs, markings or devices described in the Vehicle Code."

Judge Hobbs found that the "concealed trap exception" to section 830.8 immunity - which applies in situations where a signal, sign, marking, or device was necessary to warn of a hidden dangerous condition on the roadway - was inapplicable because the "dangerous condition" here was the reckless driver who caused the accident.

Based on her finding of immunity, the judge held that the plaintiff's loss of consortium claim must fail as well.

In addition, Judge Hobbs held that Caltrans is separately absolved of liability under the Privette doctrine, which generally provides that, when the employee of an independent contractor is injured in the workplace, they cannot sue the party that hired the contractor. The judge found that the "Hooker exception" to the doctrine was inapplicable because Caltrans did not retain control over the conditions on the project site.

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