Bakersfield has no 'design immunity' in suit over child struck by vehicle, state appeals court rules

By Karen Kidd | Nov 7, 2018

FRESNO (Northern California Record) – California's Fifth District Court of Appeal recently affirmed a lower court's ruling that a city of Bakersfield plan or design for a crosswalk where a child was struck by a vehicle earlier this year does not grant the city "design immunity" in the subsequent liability lawsuit.

In its Oct. 15 opinion, the appeals court affirmed a Kern County Superior Court's order that granted a motion for summary adjudication for a minor, identified in court documents as Emma K, concerning a city of Bakersfield traffic engineering work request. The minor was struck by a vehicle in January while she was in a midblock crosswalk on Jewetta Avenue and the suit claims the city is liable "because the crosswalk was a dangerous condition of public property that caused her injuries." the background portion of the appeals court decision said.

"Emma satisfied her burden and presented prima facie evidence that the work request was neither approved by a person vested with the discretionary authority to do so nor prepared in conformity with a previously approved standard, i.e., the 1988 Federal Highway Administration Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices," the appeals court said in its 46-page opinion. "On the other hand, city could not produce sufficient evidence demonstrating a triable issue of material fact."

The city had claimed design immunity but the appeals court turned down that argument.

"The design immunity defense fails as a matter of law," the appeals court's ruling said. "Accordingly, we find the superior court properly granted Emma's summary adjudication motion."

Appeals Court Justice Jennifer R.S. Detjen wrote the opinion in which Justice Herbert I. Levy and Justice Mark W. Snauffer concurred.

The city based its design immunity defense on a crosswalk plan or design that had been approved and in conformity with a state traffic manual. Kern County Superior Court granted Emma K.'s motion for summary adjudication of the city's design immunity defense, finding no triable issue of material fact over the existence of the plan or design and that the city had not proven the plan or design was "prepared in conformity with previously approved standards."

The superior court declined Bakersfield's petition for a writ of mandate to vacate the summary adjudication motion and the appeal followed.

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