Caltrans failure to protect the public leads to yet another preventable pedestrian death on South Coast Highway
On Sunday, February 5, 2023, a woman was tragically struck and killed by multiple vehicles along South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. She was crossing near the 30600 block, south of Nyes Place, when she was struck by oncoming southbound traffic. This is part of a series of troubling pedestrian deaths, accidents, and near misses along PCH in recent years. Although Bentley & More LLP is collecting information and has requested the traffic accident history along PCH, even the Mayor of Laguna Beach, Bob Whalen, has remarked to the OC Register that “Coast Highway is owned and operated by Caltrans and we will reach out to them to determine if they can implement additional safety improvements to make the roadway safer for pedestrians. We need to hold Caltrans accountable to find safety solutions to avoid more tragic accidents in our City.”
Holding Caltrans accountable is a difficult, but necessary, step to protect the public from further incidents like the one that occurred on February 5. Bentley & More has decades of experience litigating “dangerous conditions” of public property cases against entities like Caltrans when their long neglect of dangerous roadways causes incidents that injure the public. Namely, under Cal. Government Code Section 835, a public entity may be held directly liable for dangerous conditions that create a substantial risk of injury when used with due care in a reasonably foreseeable manner, when the condition proximately caused the injury, when the condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury suffered, and when the condition was created by the public entity or the entity had actual or constructive notice of the condition. Each of those necessary prerequisites must be present to pursue a successful dangerous condition of public property case.
With respect to PCH, even a cursory search shows a high-speed roadway with long stretches without sufficient crosswalks, signals, signage, lighting, markings, and other devices and signals to protect pedestrians and the motoring public. Pedestrians are routinely forced to cross without sufficient protection – protection that Caltrans has been long aware PCH lacks and failed to remedy. And unfortunately, pedestrian accidents and near-misses have become all too common in recent years, leading to a spate of preventable deaths, including two in the last two weeks.
Bentley & More LLP joins the rising chorus of voices urging Caltrans to make South Coast Highway a safer, more appropriate roadway that does a better job of protecting the public. Unfortunately, as is all too common with public entities, litigation may be the only way to hold Caltrans accountable for its failures.
-Gregory L. Bentley, Co-Founding Partner of Bentley & More LLP