California Court of Appeals, Third District, Yolo
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Cross-complainant and Appellant,
AMERON POLE PRODUCTS LLC, Cross-defendant and Respondent.
from a judgment of the Superior Court of Yolo County, No.
CVPM2015500 Thomas E. Warriner, Judge. (Retired judge of the
Yolo Super. Ct., assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to
art. VI, § 6 of the Cal. Const.) Reversed.
Pacific Employment Law, Joseph P. Mascovich; Flesher Schaff
& Schroeder, Jacob D. Flesher, Jason W. Schaff, and
Jeremy J. Schroeder for Cross-complainant and Appellant.
Adelson McLean, Michael J. Fabrega, and Michael D. McLean for
Cross-defendant and Respondent.
motorist brought a personal injury action against appellant
Union Pacific Railroad Company (Union Pacific) and respondent
Ameron Pole Products LLC (Ameron) following a car accident in
which she suffered serious injuries. Union Pacific filed a
cross-complaint against Ameron for equitable indemnity and
apportionment. Ameron moved for summary judgment, arguing the
motorist would be unable to prove causation as a matter of
law. Union Pacific opposed the motion, arguing that Ameron
failed to carry its initial burden of showing entitlement to
judgment as a matter of law. In the alternative, Union
Pacific argued that evidence submitted in opposition to the
motion raised a triable issue as to whether Ameron's
negligence was a substantial factor in causing the
motorist's injuries. The trial court granted the motion
and entered judgment in Ameron's favor. We reverse.
September 2014, Katie was rear-ended on Interstate 80 by an
SUV driven by Brian, a Union Pacific employee. Katie lost
control of her car, which spun off the freeway and onto the
dirt shoulder, where it struck a roadside light pole. The
light pole, which was manufactured by Ameron, was designed to
“break away” on impact, causing the pole to pass
over the impacting vehicle, thereby reducing the force of the
collision and concomitant risk of injury. On this occasion,
however, the light pole did not break away, but instead
remained standing. Katie sustained multiple injuries,
including skull fractures, injuries to her brain and face, a
fracture of the right scapula, and bilateral chest trauma.
commenced the instant action in Yolo County Superior Court on
April 7, 2015. The case was removed to federal court, where
Katie filed the operative second amended complaint. The
second amended complaint asserts a single cause of action for
negligence against Union Pacific and Brian, Ameron, and
Pacific Excavation, Inc. (together,
defendants). The second amended complaint alleges
that Brian, in the course and scope of his employment with
Union Pacific, “merged to the left and struck [Katie],
thereby causing injury and damages to [Katie].” The
second amended complaint further alleges that Ameron
“made the pole and constructed the faulty slip base,
” was “responsible, in whole or in part[, ] for
the design, engineering, and/or installation of the roadway
lighting system, ” and “acted negligently or in
strict liability as a supplier in the chain of commercial
supply in the installation of the subject light pole leading
to and causing the injuries alleged by [Katie].” The
second amended complaint seeks economic and noneconomic
damages according to proof.
Pacific and Ameron separately answered the second amended
complaint and denied liability. Around the same time, the
case was returned to Yolo County Superior Court, where
various cross-complaints were filed. As relevant here, Union
Pacific cross-complained for equitable indemnity and
apportionment of fault against Ameron and Pacific Excavation.
Pacific Excavation, for its part, cross-complained for
equitable indemnity and apportionment against Union Pacific,
Brian, and Ameron.
discovery, Ameron moved for summary judgment on the second
amended complaint and cross-complaints on the sole ground
that Katie could not establish causation. Relying on
discovery responses in which Katie averred that Brian
“caused the accident” by hitting her car, Ameron
argued the accident would have occurred whether or not the
light pole was defective or negligently installed, and
therefore, causation could not be established as a matter of
law. In the alternative, Ameron argued that Katie's
responses to certain contention interrogatories were
“factually devoid” and shifted the burden to
Katie to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of
Pacific-and only Union Pacific-opposed the motion. Union
Pacific argued that Ameron failed to make an affirmative
showing that causation could not be established, and could
not rely on Katie's “factually devoid”
discovery responses to shift the burden of production to
Union Pacific. Union Pacific also submitted an expert
declaration from Dean C. Alberson, a registered professional
engineer with experience in testing and evaluating highway
explained that Ameron's light pole was manufactured with
a breakaway slip base, a safety feature generally used in
urban areas where vehicle speeds are moderate to high.
Breakaway slip base systems connect upper and lower parts of
light poles by means of slip plates. When properly installed,
the force from an errant vehicle causes the top slip plate to
disengage from the bottom slip plate, causing the pole to
break away and fly over the vehicle. For the breakaway slip
base to function correctly, however, the top of the bottom
slip plate must be within four inches of the ground line.
averred that he had inspected the accident scene and
determined that the light pole had been mounted on sloping
ground. Alberson opined that the slip base had
not been installed in conformance with the standards set
forth in the Roadside Design Guide published by the American
Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials,
and likely failed for that reason. Alberson further opined
that, as a manufacturer of light poles with breakaway slip
bases, Ameron should have warned customers, on the pole bases
themselves, that failure to install the slip base within four
inches of the ground line could interfere with the proper
functioning of the breakaway safety feature.
filed a reply brief, arguing that any negligence in the
design or manufacture of the light pole was “legally
irrelevant” for purposes of the summary judgment
motion. Ameron also submitted numerous objections to the
declarations of Union Pacific's experts.
a hearing, the trial court granted the motion for summary
judgment, stating that Union Pacific “failed to present
admissible evidence that defendant Ameron was a substantial
factor in causing [Katie's] injuries.” The ...