Don’t Underthink It: Plaintiff Insists Civil Engineers Failed to Consider Safety Features

Fortin Law Group

Published: April 1, 2019

Public entities are conferred statutory immunity for design of roadways if the plan or design: (1) is alleged to have caused the subject accident, (2) was approved prior to construction by an employee with discretionary authority or where the design conforms to approved standards, and (3) there is substantial evidence that it was reasonable. (Rodriguez v. Dept. of Transportation (2018) 21 Cal.App.5th 947, 950; Govt. Code §830.6). The Court in Rodriguez addressed the scope of discretionary authority when the engineer does not consider certain features.

There, Plaintiff was a passenger in a truck that veered off State Route 152, across the shoulder, and struck a guard rail. Plaintiff sued Caltrans for dangerous condition of public property. He alleged warning features, such as a “rumble strip” on the roadway, would have alerted drivers who veered onto the shoulder. Caltrans moved for summary judgment, arguing it was immune from liability for an approved design. (Id. at 951; Govt. Code §830.6). Licensed civil engineers stated they approved the plans within their discretion but did not consider using rumble strips because that was not a common practice at the time of approval. Subsequent plans for refreshing the roadway without rumble strips were approved by engineers because the safety district did not recommend their use and there were no collisions that suggested a need for them at the accident site. (Id. at 952).

Plaintiff argued there was no discretionary approval because the engineers did not consider placing rumble strips on the shoulders; and their absence was a dangerous condition. The trial court granted summary judgment because Plaintiff failed to show a dispute of fact as to discretionary approval. (Id. at 953).

On appeal, Plaintiff argued there was no discretionary approval because the civil engineers did not consider using rumble strips and “’[d]esign immunity does not immunize decisions which were not made . . . Only an engineer who realizes a design does not conform to governing standards can truly make a discretionary decision to approve the design despite its nonconformity.’” (Id. at 956). The appellate court affirmed summary judgment for Caltrans. For discretionary approval, Caltrans did not need to prove the engineer engaged in a deliberative process in approving the plans. (Id. at 957); all that is required is that an employee with discretionary authority approved the plan or design. (Id. at 958). Caltrans presented “detailed drawings of the accident location, including the absence of rumble strips. This evidence demonstrates the discretionary approval element as a matter of law.” (Id. at 956).

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This article was provided by Fortin Law Group, Costa Mesa, California. This article is intended to provide the reader with general information regarding current legal issues. It is not construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for the need to seek competent legal advice on specific legal matters.

Tags: 2019, Public Entity

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