Whos at fault when illegal street racers kill innocent drivers?
At approximately 7 p.m. on October 6, 2002, two drivers raced northbound on Imperial Avenue between 69th Street and Viewcrest Drive in San Diego. It was dusk.They were going 80 mph in a 50 mph zone. One had lights on, the other did not.As the racing cars neared the intersection of Viewcrest Drive, Shanna Jump began a left turn onto Imperial Avenue, and as she did so, her car was struck broadside by the racer without his headlights on. Shanna was killed as was one of her passengers. Another was seriously injured. Two witnesses testified that the intersection was not well lighted and that Shanna probably did not see the racers. Imperial Avenue is a level roadway with few intersections, which historically prompted speeding, including occasional car racing.
The family of Shannas deceased passenger and the injured passenger sued the City of San Diego claiming the intersection was a dangerous condition of public property.Interestingly, the names of the two racers are not even mentioned in the court case, which means they were either minors or had no assets and no insurance or all three. Hopefully they are comfortably housed in state prison. The plaintiffs experts testified that the city should have installed street lights at the intersection to enable drivers to see vehicles and gauge their distance and speed. The citys expert testified the intersection met all legal requirements and additional lighting would not have prevented the collision.
A public entity is liable if someone is injured or killed because of a dangerous condition of its property when the property is used as it should be used, and that the injuries were caused by the dangerous condition. A foreseeable and substantial risk of injury is required. The court discussed cases where a municipalitys property was found to be in a dangerous condition, such as a broken traffic signal and where city-planted trees obscured a stop sign.
The court ultimately concluded that Imperial Avenue and the intersection was not inherently defective. The claimed lack of adequate lighting was not a defective physical condition, and liability should not be imposed merely because Imperial Avenue is straight, level, unobstructed and attractive to speeders.Besides, even if San Diego should have installed lighting along Imperial Avenue, there is no casual connection between the claimed lack of lighting and the racers illegal conduct.This case is about innocent victims of a heinous crash trying to find compensation when the real culprits are immune from civil judgment.Jim Porter is an attorney with PorterSimon. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firms Web site http://www.portersimon.com.
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