If a city has received complaints about a dangerous intersection for more than three decades but failed to remedy the problem, is it liable when a motorist becomes seriously injured in a collision allegedly caused by the intersection’s poor design?
That is the question a Fresno County Superior Court jury will have to consider in a case brought against the city by Steven Kennedy, 51, who was struck by a car while driving through the intersection of Cedar Avenue and Bulldog Lane – an extremely busy intersection near Fresno State University with no dedicated left-turn lights.
Mr. Kennedy, a former oil drill site manager, was driving his Harley Davidson south on Cedar through the green light when a Dodge Avenger driven by Michael Bravo, a 23-year-old Fresno State student, attempted to make a U-turn from northbound Cedar onto southbound Cedar at the intersection of Bulldog Lane. Mr. Bravo’s car collided with Mr. Kennedy’s motorcycle.
Mr. Kennedy was critically injured in the April 2014 crash. His left leg was so smashed that it had to be amputated below the knee. Some of his ribs were replaced with titanium and he suffered a number of other injuries requiring him to take pain medication and undergo physical therapy.
The crash also deprived Mr. Kennedy of a job he did well and excelled at. He started working in the oil fields of California, Oklahoma and Arkansas years ago, eventually becoming the manager of a drill site – a position that paid $170,000 plus benefits annually. Mr. Kennedy tried to return to work after the crash, but the demands of the job were more that he could physically handle.
According to The Fresno Bee, the city has been getting complaints about the intersection since 1979, when the Fresno State Student Body President told the city the intersection “has become a veritable danger zone” and suggested installing a left-turn signal on northbound Cedar.
Mr. Kennedy’s lawyer told the jury that the city has ignored complaints about the intersection from 1979 until 2004 – the year city officials decided the intersection needed a dedicated left-turn light. But such a light was not installed until 2015, the year after Mr. Kennedy’s accident.
A lawyer for the city argues that Mr. Baker, the driver who hit Mr. Kennedy, is solely responsible for the crash and that “The city is under no obligation to make it absolutely safe. It just has to be reasonably safe.”
But all the complaints about the traffic at that juncture over the years indicate that the intersection is unreasonably unsafe, especially when all the crashes over the years could have been prevented with a dedicated left-turn arrow. And, with growing traffic near the university, where many drivers have relatively little experience in tricky intersections, the potential for danger has increased.
“A key witness will be Scott Mozier, the city’s public works director, who has said in a deposition that ‘he knew something needed to be done to reduce accidents of misjudgments caused by a driver turning in front oncoming traffic,’” a trial brief for the plaintiff stated, according to The Fresno Bee.
Mr. Kennedy has undergone at least 10 surgeries on his arm, leg, ribs, and other areas since the accident. He seeks damages from the city for past and future medical bills, lost wages, and for his pain and suffering.