California Supreme Court Rules On Government Liability

California Supreme Court Rules On Government Liability

Injuries caused by trees are on the rise in Southern California.

A few weeks ago, I discussed a freak accident that happened in Pasadena when a large tree collapsed on a group of school children.

The California Supreme Court yesterday issued a ruling on another case involving a large tree.  This one was more tragic.

Cristyn Cordova was driving on Colorado Boulevard, when another car driven by Rostislav Shnayder veered into her lane.  Shnayder was drunk;  the force of the collision caused Cordova’s car to catapult onto the center median and slam into a large magnolia tree.  Cristyn was killed in the collision, as were her three passengers, two of which were her siblings.  Shnayder was later convicted of four counts of vehicular manslaughter.

Cristyn’s parents sued the City of Los Angeles, claiming that the magnolia trees that lined the center median were a dangerous condition of public property.  They argued that the trees were planted too close to the roadway, such that it was reasonably foreseeable that a car could lose control and slam into one of them.

The City countered that it was not liable for the tragic deaths because the accident was caused by Shnayder, not the City’s magnolia tree.

The trial court, and Court of Appeals both agreed with the City, and the case was dismissed.  Cristyn’s parents appealed all the way to the California Supreme Court, which decided Cordova v. City of Los Angeles yesterday.

The Court provided a lengthy analysis, defining the limits of Government liability, which I’ve also discussed recently.

The Court concluded that determining whether the magnolia tree in this particular case was a dangerous condition of public property is something that the jury must decide.  The lower courts improperly dismissed the case before a jury could evaluate the evidence.

This decision is monumental. It will prevent the government in the future from categorically escaping liability in instances where someone else’s negligence precipitated the government’s.  More people will be entitled to have their day in court as a result of this decision.

For questions about your case, the Rabbi Lawyer is one phone call away.