Case details

Curve on roadway not a dangerous condition: defense





Result type

Not present

multiple trauma
On June 24, 2006, at 2:20 p.m., plaintiffs Merle Reuser, Patrick Fairlee, Mark Zimmerschied and Ryan McAuley were operating their motorcycles on Mattole Road between Ferndale and Petrolia, in Humboldt County, when they navigated a curve and ran off the road, crashing their motorcycles into a vegetation-covered embankment. The motorcyclists claimed multiple bodily from the accidents. Reuser, Fairlee, Zimmerschied and McAuley sued the county of Humboldt, alleging that the curve was a dangerous condition. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued that the county road at the location of the accident constituted a dangerous condition of public property. Counsel contended that the location should have included a curve warning and advisory signs. The plaintiffs’ highway/street design expert testified that the curve was actually sharper than it appeared to an approaching motorist. He also testified that the curve had a steep downgrade that was not apparent to a motorist and that there should have been a warning sign advising a speed limit of only 10 mph. The plaintiffs’ injury biomechanics expert testified that the plaintiffs did not have an opportunity to slow down and that they left the roadway at approximately 30-35 mph. He further testified that skid marks at the accident scene, documented by a California Highway Patrol officer, were not motorcycle skids and were not related to the accident. Defense counsel contended that the curve at the location in question was not significantly different than other unsigned curves on the road and did not constitute a dangerous condition. Counsel also contended that the accident was caused by the plaintiffs’ excessive speed. The defense’s motorcycle expert testified that the curve could safely be negotiated at the plaintiffs’ alleged speed of 30-35 mph. The expert also showed a video of himself riding a motorcycle through the curve at 25, 30 and 35 mph to illustrate his contention. The defense’s accident reconstruction expert testified that the plaintiffs were traveling at 45-50 mph or more prior to braking in the curve. He also testified that the plaintiffs actually left the roadway at approximately 30-48 mph, but that this was after deceleration from their initial speed. He further testified that skid marks at the scene were motorcycle skids and were a result of the plaintiffs’ accident. In addition, defense counsel noted that McAuley told a California Highway Patrol officer at the scene that he was going too fast, around 50 mph, at the time of the accident. Counsel further noted that McAuley, Reuser and Zimmerschied told the emergency room doctor in separate statements that McAuley lost control of his motorcycle and that the others lost control swerving in an attempt to avoid him., The trial was bifurcated. Thus, the issue of damages was not before the jury. McAuley, Fairlee, Reuser and Zimmerschied claimed multiple bodily as a result of the accident.
Superior Court of Humboldt County, Eureka, CA

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