Street Lights in Auto Accidents: Is a public entity liable for injuries to a party involved in a motor vehicle accident, when it fails to install or maintain street lights in an operable condition? The general answer is no. Under Government Code 835, a public entity is liable for an injury caused by a dangerous condition of its property if the plaintiff establishes all of the following:
(1) That the property “was in a dangerous condition at the time of the injury.”
(2) That the injury “was proximately caused by the dangerous condition.”
(3) That the dangerous condition “created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury which was incurred.”
(4) Either that the dangerous condition was created by an employee’s wrongful act or omission within the scope of employment or that the entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition in time to take protective measures.
Thus, the real issue here is whether the failure to install or maintain street lights constitutes a “dangerous condition.”
What constitutes a “dangerous condition?”
Under Government Code 830 (a), a “dangerous condition” means a condition “that creates a substantial (as distinguished from a minor, trivial or insignificant) risk of injury when such property or adjacent property is used with due care in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable that it will be used.” Thus, the elements of a dangerous condition are (1) “foreseeable use” by persons themselves acting with due care, and (2) a “substantial” risk of injury nevertheless.
The phrase “used with due care” does not require the plaintiff to prove due care on the part of another tortfeasor, e.g., a bus driver, whose act contributed to the injury. Rather, the statute means that the condition is dangerous if it creates a substantial risk of harm when used with due care by the public generally, as distinguished from the particular person charged as concurrent tortfeasor.
Does the failure to install or maintain operable street lights constitute a “dangerous condition?” Generally, the answer is no.
In Antenor v. City of Los Angeles, (1985) 174 Cal.App.3d 477, 483, Plaintiffs were hit by a motor vehicle at an intersection while crossing the street in an unmarked crosswalk. Plaintiffs alleged, inter alia, that the city was maintaining a dangerous condition of public property because the city failed to provide adequate lighting at this specific intersection. In affirming the trial court’s directed verdict for Defendant, the Court of Appeal, for the Second District, stated the general rule: “In the absence of a statutory or charter provision to the contrary, it is generally held that a municipality is under no duty to light its street even though it is given the power to do so, and hence, that its failure to light them is not actionable negligence, and will not render it liable to damages to a traveler who is injured solely by reason thereof. A duty to light, and the consequent liability for failure to do so, may however, arise from some peculiar condition rendering lighting necessary in order to make the streets safe for travel. (emphasis added).
What this means is that even though an intersection or a particular public street is not sufficiently illuminated, generally, there can be no cause of action against that public entity. The court did leave it slightly open when it said that a lawsuit can be maintained against a public entity for insufficient lighting under “some peculiar condition.” Contact The Law Firm of R. Sam to learn more.