Case details

Parents: Dangerous crosswalk resulted in daughter’s death





Result type

Not present

death, loss of society
On Nov. 1, 2010, at around 6:45 a.m., plaintiffs’ decedent Sydney Ramirez, 16, a John F. Kennedy High School student, was walking with her friend to their first class of the day, referred to as “zero period” and held each school day at 6:53 a.m. that semester. To get to school, Sydney used the crosswalk located at the intersection of Crescent Avenue and Watson Street in La Palma. The crosswalk is considered a pedestrian artery for the community, used primarily by children for the high school to the north, the junior high school to the south, the athletic field to the west, and a public park with baseball diamonds on the southwest side. The westbound portion of the crosswalk is controlled by the city of La Palma and the speed limit going westbound on Crescent Avenue was 40 miles per hour. The eastbound portion of the crosswalk is controlled by the city of Cypress and the speed limit going eastbound is 45 mph. A Honda Odyssey operated by Cheryl Smith Vincent ultimately failed to stop for the pedestrians and struck Sydney and her friend. Sydney subsequently sustained multiple traumatic , while her friend only sustained scrapes and bruises. As a result, Sydney was transported in critical condition to Long Beach Memorial Hospital. However, she later died on Nov. 4, 2010, after being taken off life support. Sydney’s parents, Karla Ramirez and Mario Ramirez, sued the city of Cypress; the city of La Palma; and Southern California Edison Co., which owned and maintained the streetlights. Sydney’s parents alleged that the cities failed to properly address the crosswalk’s dangerous condition and that the Southern California Edison was negligent in its maintenance of the streetlights. They also claimed that the defendants’ negligence caused their daughter’s wrongful death. The cities and Southern California Edison subsequently filed a third-party complaint against Vincent, but she became a non-party in the initial wrongful death suit. Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that the defendants had notice of the dangerous condition of public property, but failed to timely address it. Counsel contended that in 1994, the cities of Cypress and La Palma received a complaint about the subject crosswalk being unsafe and about cars not stopping for pedestrians. The complaint also asked the cities to, “Please give this matter your attention before one child is injured.” Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that despite the complaint, nothing was done, and multiple pedestrian-vs.-motorist and motorist-vs.-motorist accidents occurred. Counsel contended that many motorists reported being rear-ended as a result of having to break suddenly for the crosswalk. Plaintiffs’ counsel also contended that in 2008, La Palma received numerous complaints from a mother and community member in which it was claimed that the crosswalk used by children was barely visible, that there were constant near misses, that whatever “remedial” measures it took (ie. repainting the crosswalk) were insufficient as the near misses continued, that the bulb for the street lamp on the west end of the crosswalk was out, and that foliage was covering the crosswalk sign. La Palma then informed Cypress of these complaints and in 2010, before Sydney’s accident, Cypress also received a complaint of a near miss at the subject crosswalk. However, counsel contended that instead of taking action to fix the crosswalk, Cypress placed an officer at the crosswalk for observation for a short period of time. Plaintiffs’ counsel noted that school crossings are considered unique under the state’s Manual of Traffic Control Devices, which was adopted by both La Palma and Cypress. Specifically, Section 7A.03 of the manual, entitled “School Crossing Control Criteria” states: “Alternate gaps and blockades are inherent in the traffic stream and are different at each crossing location. For safety, students need to wait for a gap in traffic that is of sufficient duration to permit reasonably safe crossing. When the delay between the occurrences of adequate gaps becomes excessive, students might become impatient and endanger themselves by attempting to cross the street during an inadequate gap.” Counsel contended that under Section 4C.01, there are eight warrants that are evaluated to determine if a traffic signal should be installed, and that the key warrant for schools and unique to school areas is Warrant 5 — School Crossing. Counsel noted that per Section 4C.06, Warrant 5 — School Crossing, the city has to do a gap study to see if there are sufficient gaps in traffic going through the crosswalk to allow students to safely cross given the time they need to cross the entire crosswalk. Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that this is specified in the manual and that it’s part of a four-page checklist used by engineers to see if a traffic signal is warranted. Counsel contended that after receiving complaints in 2008, La Palma undertook a study of the subject crosswalk, but its Director of Public Works, per deposition testimony, claimed that the city’s study was improperly conducted. Counsel contended that Cypress also failed to perform a proper study of the crosswalk. Plaintiffs’ counsel asserted that, in fact, it was not until two months after the incident that both cities conducted a proper gap study and Warrant 5 analysis. Counsel also asserted that upon completion of a proper study and analysis, the cities concluded that students needed 16.5 seconds to safely cross and that they did not have sufficient gaps in traffic to do this. Thus, the cities concluded that the warrant was met and that a traffic signal should be installed. Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that the cities’ own studies stated, “The amount of school children and time they need to use the crosswalk across Crescent Avenue, along with available traffic gaps, met all guidelines in this particular warrant.” Counsel noted that as a result, Cypress attempted to free up some money through a state grant called the SAFE Routes to School Program. Counsel contended that within the pre-incident 2010 SAFE Routes to School application, La Palma stated that there were peculiar conditions at the subject crosswalk that required adequate lighting. Plaintiffs’ counsel noted that these peculiar conditions, as reflected in the cities’ own SAFE Routes to School Application and Warrant #5 Study, included the fact that the location was a school crossing; that it was recognized that “students might become impatient and endanger themselves by attempting to cross the street during an inadequate gap;” that there was a number of children that used the crosswalk; and that the location of the crosswalk was near three schools and a public park. Counsel also noted that the SAFE Routes to School Application and Warrant #5 Study noted the extended length of time the children needed to cross the crosswalk when exposed to high speed traffic (40 to 45 mph); the high volume of pedestrian traffic on a barely visible crosswalk; and the lack of sufficient gaps in traffic for students to safely cross. Thus, plaintiffs’ counsel asserted that the peculiar conditions stated in the SAFE Routes to School Application and Warrant #5 Study describe a dangerous condition and that rather than immediately install a traffic signal and/or in-pavement lights at the crosswalk, similar to what La Palma did just a year earlier in front of City Hall, Cypress delayed the process to see if it could free up some money through the SAFE Routes to School Program. Counsel further asserted that Cypress and La Palma knew the grant process was lengthy, with a minimal chance of approval, and that even though the cities had $18 million available, they “waited” until the inevitable happened. According to plaintiffs’ counsel, Cypress admitted that, in its 2008 study of the crosswalk, it failed to perform the Warrant 5 analysis or gap study — the one analysis it had to do that is unique to school crossings. Plaintiffs’ counsel also claimed that Cypress admitted that the study should have been done, was not done and had no excuse for it not being done. However, defense counsel disputed that there were any accidents at the subject location after Sydney’s accident and denied the crosswalk was dangerous. Cypress and La Palma denied there was any breach of duty they owed to the motoring or pedestrian traffic. Instead, both cities maintained that there was no dangerous condition of public property and that they acted reasonably at all times pertinent to the incident. Southern California Edison denied liability. It claimed that evidence suggested that the streetlights at the scene were functioning properly and that, as a matter of law, it owed no duty to the public. Counsel for Cypress, La Palma and Southern California Edison argued that the subject crosswalk did not constitute a dangerous condition of public property and that there is no duty to install a light at that location. In addition, counsel argued that Vincent was liable for the accident and that Sydney did not use common sense when utilizing the crosswalk. In support of their arguments, defense counsel relied heavily on Mixon v. State of California (2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 124, and Antenor v. City of Los Angeles (1985) 174 Cal.App. 3d 477. Vincent, the non-party driver that struck Sydney, claimed that she had used the particular stretch of roadway in question before, but that she didn’t see Sydney until after the accident., Sydney sustained multiple traumatic and died at Long Beach Memorial Hospital on Nov. 4, 2010, after being taken off life support. She was 16 years old at the time of her death. Sydney’s divorced parents, who shared custody of her, claimed that their daughter was loving, happy and a popular girl who loved to draw, dance, and sing. They also claimed that Sydney was athletic, having played softball for five years, earned all A’s and one B in school, and had hopes and dreams of going to Long Beach State to become a choir teacher. The parents also claimed that Sydney was close to both of them and would frequently spend time with them by going shopping or to the movies with them, as well as would spend quality family time with the rest of her siblings. Thus, Sydney’s parents sought recovery of wrongful death damages for their loss of love, comfort, companionship, society, affection, solace or moral support.
Superior Court of Orange County, Orange, CA

Recommended Experts


Get a FREE consultation for your case