Monday, December 14, 2009
Appeals Court Revives Suit Over Juror’s Fall at Inglewood Courthouse
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal on Friday revived a lawsuit by a 70-year-old woman who said she tripped and fell when reporting to the Los Angeles Superior Court’s Inglewood Courthouse for jury duty.
Div. Three ruled in an unpublished opinion that Jaleh Kohan’s complaint sufficiently alleged that yellow caution tape placed about two to four feet above the ground in a construction zone near the courthouse’s only entrance presented a dangerous condition of public property.
Kohan sued Los Angeles County and the City of Inglewood for general negligence and premises liability after her May 9, 2006 fall, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dudley W. Gray II sustained demurrers by the defendants.
The county and city argued that Kohan failed to exercise due care by ignoring tape placed to keep her out of danger, and said that her conscious decision to step over it prevented liability because public entities are required only to maintain property in a way that is safe for “careful use.”
Writing on appeal, Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein agreed with Gray that government entities generally cannot be held liable for negligence under California law, and affirmed as to the general negligence count. But she said that Kohan’s allegations of a dangerous condition of public property were sufficient to withstand demurrer.
Kohan claimed that the defendants had been performing construction or repairs in the area between a parking structure and the courthouse entrance, which she said was the only way to enter the courthouse, and that the area was identified by the yellow caution tape wrapped around several lampposts.
Noting that that she would have been subject to civil and criminal penalties had she not reported for jury duty, Kohan said the tape became caught around her foot as she attempted to step over it, causing her to lose her balance and fall to the ground.
“The fact that the tape was not wrapped tightly around the lampposts and potential jurors had to step over the tape to report for jury duty created a dangerous condition of which the defendants had notice but failed to take corrective action to protect and preserve the safety of jurors who had been summoned to the courthouse,” her complaint alleged.
The city and the county countered that Kohan was at fault under the Court of Appeal’s 2004 opinion in Milligan v. Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation Dist. 120 Cal.App.4th 1, and other cases.
In Milligan, the court rejected government liability when an individual stepped over a bridge railing and jumped, committing suicide, and found no indication the bridge was unsafe for those using due care.
But Klein explained:
“The factor that distinguishes the case at bar from the cases cited by the defendants is the allegation that Kohan was summoned to the courthouse to report for jury duty and thus was obliged to enter the building….
“Stepping over yellow tape two or three feet off the ground in order to enter the courthouse after being summoned to report for jury duty simply cannot be considered the equivalent of jumping off a bridge, climbing a fence or a sound wall or diving into a shallow lagoon from a pier. As a prospective juror, Kohan had an obligation to report to the courthouse for jury duty and her complaint alleges that in order to do so, she had to step over yellow tape the defendants put in place.
“In sum, even accepting that the defendants placed the yellow caution tape in place to provide warning of danger, whether stepping over the tape shows lack of due care is a question of fact that cannot be determined on demurrer.”
Justices H. Walter Croskey and Richard D. Aldrich joined Klein in her opinion.
Kohan was represented by attorneys Cameron Y. Brock and Arnold W. Gross of Burg & Brock in Sherman Oaks. City Attorney Cal P. Saunders and Deputy City Attorney Jenny Hsieh represented the City of Inglewood, while Assistant County Counsel Ralph L. Rosato and Principal Deputy County Counsel Gary P. Gross represented the county.
The case is Kohan v. City of Inglewood, B210921.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company