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Reporting a dangerous condition on public property

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Residents can write a demand letter to the city if local government fails to talke action to correct dangerous conditions around places like construction sites. (courtesy photo)

This week’s question comes from a reader in Larkspur, who writes:

Q:“The intersection of Bon Air and Magnolia in Larkspur is very dangerous. There is a lot of construction going on affecting the signage and control of the intersection, especially during rush hour when lots of cars, bikes and kids going to school are present. Someone was already hurt here and the city hasn’t taken action to reduce or eliminate the danger. What can I do?”

A: Being a lawyer who takes on government entities that fail to monitor and correct dangerous conditions, I know what motivates governments to take action: a demand letter from an appropriate stakeholder indicating that a lawsuit will be initiated if the condition is not corrected.

A city can be sued for a dangerous condition of public property, defined in the California Government Code as “a condition of property that creates a substantial (as distinguished from a minor, trivial or insignificant) risk of injury when such property … is used with due care in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable that it will be used.” Courts have held dangerous conditions on public property when the property “is physically damaged, deteriorated, or defective in such a way as to foreseeably endanger those using the property itself.” Bonanno v. Cent. Contra Costa Transit Auth. (2003).

Government Code section 835 makes a public entity, such as the City of Larkspur, liable for injury caused by a dangerous condition of its property if the plaintiff establishes the following:

  • The property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the injury
  • The injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition
  • The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury which was incurred
  • And, the injury was either:
    • Caused by a negligent or wrongful act or omission of an employee of the public entity within the scope of his employment which created the dangerous condition or
    • The public entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition under Section 835.2 a sufficient time prior to the injury to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition

Thus, in order to have a viable lawsuit and hold the city accountable in the unfortunate but likely event of future injuries, you have to send the city a letter that puts them in actual notice of the danger.

I have written letters like this before and seen change occur promptly. This, because if someone does get hurt after the actual notice provided in this proposed letter, the City will find it impossible to claim lack of notice. The more letters you and your neighbors send,shut the greater the chance they act with haste.

You should send the letter to the City Attorney and the City Counsel via the City Clerk. The City of Larkspur outsources the City Attorney function to an outside Law Firm. This is not uncommon in small cities.

Here is a suggested letter:

Larkspur City Attorney,
Sky Woodruff, Meyers Nave, 555 12th St #1500, Oakland, CA 94607
City Counsel, care of
Jamie Kuryllo
City Clerk
400 Magnolia Ave.
Upstairs, City Hall
Larkspur, CA 94939

Gentlepersons,

Please let this letter serve as actual notice of the existence of a dangerous condition at the intersection of Bon Air and Magnolia in Larkspur. The configuration of the intersection, in combination with inadequate traffic control devices, construction, high traffic volumes and other factors creates a non-trivial danger which poses a substantial likelihood of imminent injury or death. The available visibility, signage, signaling and striping is not only inadequate, it gives a false sense of security to pedestrians and cyclists thereby creating a trap for the unwary pedestrian or bicyclist.

This risk is heightened by the fact that there are many children going and coming from school and numerous bicyclists use this intersection as part of their daily commute route.

I am informed and believe that there have already been several serious injuries which have occurred because of the dangerousness of the intersection. As a concerned citizen I implore you to undertake prompt remedial measures to address this hazard. Save lives and taxpayer money by avoiding a tragedy and subsequent lawsuit.

Please forward a copy of this letter to the persons or departments responsible for traffic, pedestrian and bicycle safety as well as those responsible for inspecting, evaluating, maintaining and configuring intersections so they are on notice and can act promptly.

It may be helpful to hold a community town hall on intersection safety.

Please keep a copy of this letter on file with the City Attorney, The City Counsel, the Department of Public works, and Police and Fire Departments.

Please provide me with correspondence indicating receipt of this letter. You may send it by mail to my address _________ and of by email to ___________.

Regards,

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email Chris questions and topics for future articles to help@dolanlawfirm.com. 

We serve clients across the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Our work is no recovery, no free or also referred to as contingency-based. That means we collect no fee unless we obtain money for your damages and injuries.

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