UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Cross-complainant and Appellant,
AMERON POLE PRODUCTS LLC, Cross-defendant and Respondent.
Cal.Rptr.3d 133] APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court
of Yolo County, 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. (Super. Ct. No.
Employment Law, Joseph P. Mascovich, San Francisco; Flesher
Schaff & Schroeder, Jacob D. Flesher, Gold River, Jason W.
Schaff, and Jeremy J. Schroeder, Bakersfield, for
Cross-complainant and Appellant.
McLean, Michael J. Fabrega, and Michael D. McLean, Santa Ana,
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 [257 Cal.Rptr.3d 134] 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
Amerons negligence was a substantial factor in causing the
motorists injuries. The trial court granted the motion and
entered judgment in Amerons 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.
Following 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 [257
Cal.Rptr.3d 135] that Katies responses to certain contention
interrogatories were "factually devoid" and shifted
the burden to Katie to demonstrate the existence of a triable
issue of material fact.
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 Katies "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
Alberson explained that Amerons 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