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Laura Silva et al v. City of Chico

March 24, 2011

LAURA SILVA ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF CHICO, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



Super. Ct. No. 140898

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hoch ,j.

Silva v. City of Chico CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

After a night of celebratory drinking in downtown Chico, plaintiffs hired a pedicab to take them home rather than endanger the public by driving while intoxicated. Unfortunately, a drunk driver rear-ended the pedicab, ejecting plaintiffs and the operator from the conveyance.

Plaintiffs suffered serious injuries in the accident and sued the City of Chico (the City), alleging: (1) the condition of the street and bike lane where the accident occurred constituted a "dangerous condition" of public property for purposes of Government Code sections 830 and 835; and (2) the City failed to "utilize all minimum safety design criteria and uniform specifications and symbols for signs, markers, and traffic control devices" in developing and operating its bikeways and roadways where bike travel is permitted as required by Streets and Highways Code section 891.*fn1 The City moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.

On appeal, plaintiffs assert that they "raised numerous triable issues of material fact" with respect to each cause of action. We affirm the judgment entered in favor of the City. As we explain, the trial court correctly concluded that the City's lack of control over the highway on which the accident occurred is fatal to each of plaintiffs' causes of action.

BACKGROUND

Route 32 is a state highway extending from Interstate 5 near Orland to Route 36 near Lake Almanor. (§ 332.) The highway cuts through the center of Chico, and from west 1st Street to west East Avenue it is commonly known as Nord Avenue. This portion of Route 32 crosses the Big Chico Creek roughly one-10th of a mile north of west 1st Street. As the highway approaches the Big Chico Creek bridge from the south, the roadway elevates and then declines after passing over the bridge.

The Accident

Shortly after midnight on the night of the accident, plaintiffs flagged down a pedicab about a block from Madison Bear Garden in downtown Chico. Less than sober, they decided it would be safer to take a pedicab than to drive. The pedicab carried its passengers through downtown Chico along city streets, made a right turn onto Route 32 from west 1st Street, and continued across the Big Chico Creek bridge.

As the pedicab reached the end of the bridge, a black BMW convertible hit the back of the pedicab, causing plaintiffs and the operator to be ejected from the conveyance. Plaintiffs suffered serious injuries in the accident. Police determined that the driver of the BMW was intoxicated at the time of the collision.

The Complaint

Plaintiffs sued the City, alleging in their first cause of action that the City failed to discharge the mandatory duty found in section 891, providing that "[a]ll city, county, regional, and other local agencies responsible for the development or operation of bikeways or roadways where bicycle travel is permitted shall utilize all minimum safety design criteria and uniform specifications and symbols for signs, markers, and traffic control devices established [by the Department of Transportation (Caltrans)]." Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that, "[a]mong other failings, the bikeway where the accident occurred does not meet the minimum width requirements and sign/marking requirements" for bike lanes. Plaintiffs' second cause of action alleged that "the too-narrow bike lane, sharp decline leaving the bridge and lack of warning of the decreased visibility of bicycle riders" amounted to a "dangerous condition" of public property for purposes of Government Code sections 830 and 835.

The Summary Judgment Motion

The City moved for summary judgment asserting that plaintiffs would not be able to establish an essential element of each cause of action, i.e., that the City owned or controlled the portion of Route 32 where the accident occurred.

In support of the motion, the City proffered a separate statement containing five undisputed facts. First, the accident occurred when the pedicab in which plaintiffs were riding northbound on Route 32 was struck from behind by a northbound motor vehicle just after the pedicab crossed the Big Chico Creek bridge. Second, the City has never possessed any ownership interest in the portion of Route 32 on which the accident occurred. Third, the City did not participate in the design, construction, configuration, striping, surfacing or signing of the accident site. Fourth, the City has a contract with the state allowing the City to perform street sweeping along Route 32, including the accident site; however, the City's activities are confined to sweeping and do not physically change or modify the configuration or placement of the roadway, surface, striping or signing in any way. And finally, the City has never requested ...


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