Public Entity Liability: Inadequate Roadway Lighting

Mixon v. State of California, (First District, May 29, 2012), 142 Cal.Rptr.3d 633, 12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 7187, 2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 8627

A four-year old boy who was suffered severe brain injuries when he was hit by a car while walking in a crosswalk at an intersection, filed suit against the State of California, contending that the nighttime accident was caused by a dangerous condition of public property under Government Code § 835. The plaintiff, along with his siblings who witnessed the impact, alleged, inter alia, that the lighting at the site of the crosswalk was inadequate, in that the nearest street light was 29 feet from the intersection. The plaintiffs further alleged that the location was made especially dangerous because the poorly lit intersection contrasted sharply with better lit areas surrounding it.

The trial court granted summary judgment, finding that the intersection was not in a dangerous condition and that there was no duty to provide lighting. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that the State had negligently undertaken to provide lighting in the area:

“Plaintiffs’ argument is a variant of the claim that a public entity is negligent for failing to provide street lights — a claim that has long been rejected. A public entity is under no duty to light its streets. (Antenor v. City of Los Angeles (1985) 174 Cal.App.3d 477, 483, 220 Cal.Rptr. 181 (Antenor ).) … A duty to light, “and the consequent liability for failure to do so,” may arise only if there is “some peculiar condition rendering lighting necessary in order to make the streets safe for travel.”

… In other words, a prior dangerous condition may require street lighting or other means to lessen the danger but the absence of street lighting is itself not a dangerous condition.

In this case, plaintiffs argue that even if the State had no duty to provide lighting, it may be held liable because it undertook to provide lighting and did so negligently by lighting the surrounding areas more brightly than the 3rd and R Streets intersection…. Plaintiffs try to contrast their argument as one faulting “the lighting configuration” and “lighting scheme” at the intersection rather than one faulting the lack of lighting, but it all amounts to the same thing. The alleged defect in the “the lighting configuration” is that the areas before and after the intersection were more brightly lit, making the intersection a more difficult to perceive “black hole,” according to plaintiffs. The only cure for such a defect is more lighting at the intersection as it is impractical to darken the surrounding areas…. The lighting configuration at the subject intersection and surrounding area is not unlike many urban areas where there are numerous light sources, public and private, and gradations of light intensity. A public entity, which has no general duty to light its streets, cannot be held liable for failing to provide a consistent level of lighting between one street and the next.”

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