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Collisions Caused by Inoperable Traffic Lights

Collisions Caused by Inoperable Traffic Lights

Someone recently asked me about a scenario that is unfortunately, too common.

What happens when a collision is caused by a traffic light that is out of service or inoperable in Los Angeles?  Can an injured person sue the City or entity responsible for maintaining the traffic light?

California courts have dealt with this issue before.  The key case is White v. Southern California Edison (25 Cal.App.4th 442 (1994).

That case involved a collision where one driver turned left at an intersection that had an inoperable traffic light. The driver turned into another vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, causing serious injuries. The injured driver sued Southern California Edison, a public utility, for failing to maintain the traffic light.

The Court analyzed whether the public utility entity owed a duty of care to drivers.  The Court concluded that it did not.  While the entity has a duty to exercise reasonable care, there is no duty of care stemming from the interruption of service or a failure to provide a service.  Surprisingly, California law holds that municipalities are under no duty to provide street lights, even though they may choose to do so.

The White case is still valid law in California.  But what happens when the street light is maintained by a private company?  Can there be an actionable case against the private company for failing to maintain a traffic light?

This was the subject of the recent case Lichtman v. Siemens Industries Inc.

Siemens contracted with the City of Glendale to maintain backup batteries for traffic signals in the cityThe Court noted that summary judgment was improperly granted for Siemens when it argued that it owed no duty to plaintiffs injured in a collision caused by an inoperable traffic light.    The Court sent the case back to the trial court to decide whether Siemens, a private contractor, owed a duty of care to the plaintiffs injured in the Glendale collision.

Whether a duty is owed must be decided on a case by case basis. If you were injured in a collision caused by an out of service or inoperable traffic light in Los Angeles, contact an attorney to discuss the merits of your case.

The Rabbi Lawyer is ready to assist, 24/6.