Appellate Court Reverses Plaintiffs’ Jury Verdict after Finding Government Entity Was Entitled to Design Immunity

Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a case brought by the surviving family members of a man who was killed in an auto-pedestrian accident against the city where the accident occurred. In the case, Gonzales v. City of Atwater, the court reversed the lower court’s decision not to apply governmental design immunity, holding that the government met its burden to establish immunity. As a result, the $3.2 million verdict in favor of the plaintiffs was reversed.

Intersection at SunsetThe Facts of the Case

Gonzales was struck and killed in an auto-pedestrian accident occurring at an intersection in the City of Atwater. The surviving family members filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the driver of the truck that struck Gonzales as well as against the City of Atwater. The jury determined that the driver of the truck was not at fault and that the city was fully responsible for the accident, due to the dangerous design of the intersection. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $3.2 million.

The city repeatedly argued at various times throughout the trial that the case against it should be dismissed because it was entitled to immunity through the doctrine of governmental design immunity. Specifically, the city argued that it relied on a 2001 study it had commissioned to determine how to safely design the intersection before constructing the roads at the intersection. The trial court denied all of the city’s motions to dismiss, and a jury eventually issued a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs for $3.2 million.

The City Successfully Appeals

The city appealed the lower court’s decision to the appellate court, arguing that all of the elements of design immunity were met. The appellate court began by citing the three elements that must be met to establish design immunity:

  • A causal relationship between the design and the accident;
  • Discretionary approval of the plan by a government official; and
  • Evidence showing that the design was reasonable at the time it was implemented.

The court explained that each of these elements was met. The first element was not at issue, since the plaintiffs agreed there was a causal relationship. Next, the court relied on evidence that in 2001, the city had commissioned an independent third-party study of the intersection and implemented the study’s suggestions. The court explained that a government official had the option to adopt but did not have to adopt the suggestions of the third-party study. Finally, the court went on to explain that the suggestions were reasonable at the time they were adopted. As a result, the court found that the lower court was incorrect to deny the city’s motion to dismiss.

Have You Been Injured by a Government Entity’s Negligence?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an accident due to the negligence of a government employee or entity, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, you will likely need to overcome the issue of governmental immunity. While immunity does apply in a large number of cases, there are many situations in which immunity is not appropriate, and a government employee or entity can be held responsible for their negligence. Call the dedicated personal injury attorneys at Charles B. Roberts & Associates at 703-491-7070 to set up a free consultation to discuss your case. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our time unless we can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

See More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff’s Bad-Faith Insurance Claim Allowed to Proceed after Dismissal Is Reversed on Appeal, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, December 7, 2016.

Government Immunity in Virginia Personal Injury Lawsuits, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, December 1, 2016.