Opinion Rejects Common Caltrans Defense Strategy

Chris Chandler was killed as he crossed busy El Camino Real in a marked crosswalk. We argued at trial that Caltrans should have known that the crosswalk was dangerous because of an accident that occurred in a similar crosswalk 20 miles away. The jury agreed, and awarded the family $9.5 million.

Caltrans appealed arguing that the jury should never have been allowed to hear about the accident at the intersection 20 miles from where Chandler was killed because, the Caltrans argued, it was an entirely different intersection. Caltrans argued that, because there had been no record of pedestrian accidents at the particular crosswalk where Chandler was killed, it could not have known of the danger.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the evidence was properly put before the jury and affirmed the jury’s unanimous $9.5 million verdict.

Because the two intersections and accidents were sufficiently similar in material ways and provided the State with actual or constructive notice of the dangers of placing marked crosswalks with no safety enhancements at uncontrolled El Camino intersections, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing plaintiffs to present evidence of the [other] accident.

The Court of Appeal’s decision is important. Caltrans almost always seeks to avoid liability by arguing that, unless there have been multiple injuries or deaths at the particular intersection in question, Caltrans could not have known of any undue risk, and thus should not be held liable. It will be harder for Caltrans to make that argument in the future.