Weekly Law Resume - January 10, 2013: Dangerous Conditions of Public Property and Third-Party Conduct: The Alleged Condition Must Cause the Conduct, Not Just the Injury

by Low, Ball & Lynch

Cordova v. City of Los Angeles
California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District (December 20, 2012)

Plaintiffs injured by the negligent or criminal acts of others often allege that a dangerous condition of public property contributed to their injuries. In this case, the Court of Appeal addressed the whether a public entity’s liability requires that the condition of its property contribute to the existence or extent of the injuries in any manner, or whether that condition must specifically contribute to the third-party’s negligent or criminal conduct.

On August 27, 2008, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Cristyn Cordova was driving westbound with four passengers on the inside lane of Colorado Boulevard in Los Angeles. To the left of Cordova’s vehicle was a grassy median divider with semi-regularly placed magnolia trees. To its right was a vehicle driven by Rostislav Shnayder. Both Cordova and Shnayder were likely traveling above 65 mph in this 35 mph zone. As Cordova approached Hermosa Avenue, Shnayder’s car veered into hers, pushing it into the grassy median, where it struck a magnolia tree and crumpled. Cordova, her unborn baby, and three passengers were killed in the impact; one was seriously injured. Shnayder was arrested at the scene and later convicted of vehicular manslaughter.

Cordova’s parents sued the City of Los Angeles for wrongful death based on an alleged dangerous condition of public property (Government Code § 835). They alleged that Colorado Boulevard was in a dangerous condition due to the lack of “clear zones” – i.e., areas of roadway left unobstructed – as well as due to the presence of the magnolia tree and other features.

The City filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the center median of Colorado Boulevard was safe when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner; the median was not damaged, deteriorated, defective or latently hazardous; and the accident that resulting in the deaths and injury was the result of third-party criminal conduct. The City submitted evidence showing that the 85th percentile speed on that portion of Colorado Boulevard was between 35 and 40 mph. It also submitted evidence showing that the width of the median and the location of the tree on it complied with both its own Bureau of Engineering Street Design Manual as well as American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) guidelines. Specifically, there was seven feet of clearance from the magnolia tree to the inner edge of the painted traffic lane in which Cordova was driving, and the median had a standard, six inch curb face. In addition, the City showed that, of the prior collisions arising from the 32,500 daily vehicle crossings, none involved the median trees or fatalities.

In their opposition to summary judgment, the Cordovas submitted evidence of eight “scars” on magnolia trees, possibly indicating prior collisions, as well a 1979 U.S. Department of Transportation study indicating that trees are the second most commonly struck fixed objects on roadways. In addition, they presented evidence of numerous sideswipe collisions on that stretch of Colorado Boulevard. Accordingly, the Cordovas argued, it was foreseeable that a catastrophic collision would occur if appropriate safety measures were not taken.

The trial court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, noting that, if the Cordovas’ theory were accepted, boulders, mailboxes and all other items by the side of a road would have to be removed. It also did not find any causal connection between the tree and the accident; instead, only Shnayder’s conduct caused the collision.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. It reviewed a number of prior decisions involving allegations of a dangerous condition of public property in conjunction with wrongful third-party conduct. Under those decisions, a public entity may be liable even where the immediate cause of injury is a third party’s negligent or criminal act, “if some physical characteristic of the property exposes its users to increased danger” from the third-party conduct. Public-entity liability may lie where a feature of the property increases or intensifies the risk to users from third-party conduct. However, the third-party conduct alone does not constitute a “dangerous condition” under § 835; instead, the defect in the property must have some causal relationship to the conduct that injures the plaintiff. Property is not “dangerous” under that statute if it is safe when used with due care and the risk of harm is created only when foreseeable users fail to exercise due care.

Applying these principles, the Cordova court held that the plaintiffs could not show that the magnolia tree contributed to Shnayder’s criminally negligent driving. It stated that “[t]here is nothing about Colorado Boulevard that would cause a person driving at or near the speed limit to suddenly veer into the magnolia tree.” In addition, the plaintiffs did not contend that the view of the median was obstructed, that the tree was a surprise obstacle, or that the median and trees caused cars to travel at an unsafe speed. The court thus affirmed the judgment in the City’s favor.


The Cordova decision is strongly favorable to public entities defending cases under Government Code § 835. Its significance lies in its clear definition and application of the necessary causal relationship between public property and third-party conduct. Plaintiffs often attempt to defeat summary judgment – sometimes successfully – by arguing that a condition of public property “increased or intensified” the risk to them by, for example, preventing them from seeing or avoiding the negligent or criminal third-party or, as in Cordova, by increasing the severity of the injuries resulting from the third-party conduct. As the Cordova decision makes clear, however, the property can only be considered dangerous when it allows, enables or facilitates the third-party conduct in the first place.

For a copy of the complete decision see:



Written by:

Low, Ball & Lynch

Low, Ball & Lynch on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.