Factual background of the case
On March 6, 2011, a tourist from Oklahoma named Terry Turner ate at Geoffrey’s restaurant, which is located in Malibu. After he finished eating, he tried to turn left onto PCH. PCH is a one-way road in front of Geoffrey’s that has a median to divide traffic that is headed in the opposite direction. When Turner turned left, he was headed directly into oncoming traffic. A 41-year-old man named Joseph Annocki Jr. was riding his motorcycle on PCH. He tried to avoid Turner’s vehicle, lost control of his motorcycle and fell off of it. He was killed as a result. Turner’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Turner, Caltrans and Petersen Enterprises LLC, the parent company of Geoffrey’s Malibu under theories of negligence and premises liability.
The trial court initially dismissed the claim against Petersen Enterprises LLC, but the Court of Appeals reversed. It found that the restaurant had notice of the roadway and the dangers that it posed to patrons. It also found that the restaurant had configured its driveway in such a manner that a sign was necessary and reinstated Petersen Enterprises as a defendant to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs argued that Geoffrey’s restaurant and Caltrans had a duty to warn the restaurant’s patrons of the one-way road in front of the restaurant. They argued that the establishment served alcohol and the driveway was constructed in such a way to make it unclear that people couldn’t turn left out of it onto the road. They argued it was especially confusing for restaurant patrons who were leaving at night.
The restaurant argued that the reflective barrier that divided the road gave sufficient warning to restaurant patrons that the road directly in front of the restaurant only went in one direction. Caltrans argued that it did not have a duty to warn the restaurant patrons of the one-way direction of the road.
Trial and verdict
Prior to trial, Caltrans settled with the plaintiffs for $1 million. The plaintiffs made §998 demands of $1 million to Geoffrey’s Malibu and of $125,000 to Terry Turner. Geoffrey’s made a §998 offer of $500,000. Neither side accepted, so the case proceeded to a jury trial. The trial lasted for nine days before both sides rested and sent it to the jury. The jury deliberated for two and one-half days before reaching a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of $5 million. The jury found that Turner was 50 percent responsible for the accident. They found that Caltrans was 15 percent responsible and Geoffrey’s restaurant was 35 percent responsible. The jury found that the plaintiffs’ past non-economic losses were $1,500,000, and the future non-economic losses were $3,500,000.
Duty to warn of a hazardous condition
The case illustrates the duty to warn that is owed by public entities for hazards on public property. In this case, Caltrans and Geoffrey’s restaurant had a duty to warn restaurant patrons that the road outside of the restaurant only went in a southbound direction and that it was not possible to turn left out of the parking lot. In order to prove that a plaintiff was injured because of a hazardous condition on the property, the plaintiff must prove the following elements:
- The defendant was either the owner or controller of the property;
- The property had a dangerous condition when the incident happened;
- The risk of the injury that happened because of the dangerous condition was reasonably foreseeable;
- The condition existed for a sufficient amount of time that the defendant should reasonably have known about it; and
- The dangerous condition was a substantial factor in the plaintiff’s resulting harm.
Duty to repair unsafe conditions
This case also involved the duty to repair unsafe conditions about which the plaintiffs knew or reasonably should have known. Geoffrey’s restaurant could have either reconfigured its driveway to prevent people from turning left or simply have placed a sign at the end of it that stated right turns only. Caltrans likewise could have placed a sign indicating that the road only went in a southbound direction outside of the restaurant’s driveway. If either had placed a sign at the end of the driveway, then the plaintiffs would likely not have prevailed in their lawsuit.
Contact an experienced premises liability attorney in Los Angeles
If you have suffered a serious injury or your loved one has been killed because of a dangerous property condition, you may have legal rights. Contact an experienced premises liability lawyer in Los Angeles to schedule a consultation so that you can learn more about your potential case.