In City of Long Beach v. Stevedoring Services of America, (— Cal.Rptr. 3d —, 2007 WL 4239777, Cal.App. 2 Dist., Dec. 4, 2007), a California Court of Appeal considered a city’s liability for a traffic accident that occurred after the city reconfigured traffic lanes, but did not immediately remove from the new lanes a fire hydrant, which was then struck by a driver.
The court found that the city was actively negligent in creating a dangerous condition on public property, and that therefore a contractual agreement exempting the city from liability, except for actions arising from the city’s negligence, did not protect the city.
The City of Long Beach (“City”) entered into an agreement with Stevedoring Services of America Inc. (“SSA”) for the operation of some city-owned berths at the Port of Long Beach (“Port”). The contract between the City and SSA required that SSA hold the City harmless from all legal actions arising from the use of the facility, excluding any such action attributable to the negligence of the City.
In the 1990’s the City reconfigured the Port in a way that relocated traffic lanes so that fire hydrants not previously exposed to traffic were now located in traffic lanes. In November 1996 the new traffic lanes were repaved and restriped, but the hydrants were not immediately removed. Guardposts were installed around them. One day after the restriping was completed, SSA truck driver Kathy Young struck one of the guard posts.
Young filed a personal injury lawsuit against the City, and the City filed a cross-complaint against SSA for contractual indemnity. A jury found that the city’s property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the accident, that the dangerous condition caused the accident, that it was the result of City employees acting within the scope of their employment, and that therefore the City was negligent and SSA was not liable to the City under the terms of the contract. The City appealed the judgment that it was not entitled to contractual indemnity from SSA.
Reviewing the language of the City’s contract with SSA, the court noted that SSA was required to indemnify the City from claims arising out of its use of the property, excluding those claims caused by “the sole negligence (active or passive), or the contributory active negligence” of the City.
The evidence showed the City was actively negligent, the court said, because it created the dangerous condition that caused the accident. The City knew the hydrant needed to be relocated, but had failed to do so before opening the new lanes to traffic. Further, the City knew that workers at the pier drove the lanes looking left and right to locate various containers, further enhancing the danger.
The court also rejected the relevance of City claims that other factors, such as Young’s driving and SSA’s operation, contributed to the accident, because the accident was entirely foreseeable given the City-created dangerous condition.
The judgment in favor of SSA rejecting the City’s cross-complaint for contractual indemnity was affirmed.