Tuesday, June 18, 2013
C.A. Revives Suit Against Utility Over Crash Between Car and Pole
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A utility regulated by the Public Utilities Commission is not immune from a superior court suit alleging that its placement of a pole was a contributing factor to injuries suffered by a passenger in a car that struck the pole, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Two reversed San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Gilbert Ochoa’s order granting judgment on the pleadings in favor of Southern California Edison in the suit by Amanda Laabs. The court simultaneously affirmed Ochoa’s dismissal of a cross-complaint by Edison against the City of Victorville, based on the company’s failure to present the city with a timely claim.
The rulings were made in Laabs’ fourth appeal. In the most recent prior to this one, the court said the utility company had not shown the absence of a duty of care as a matter of law, based on the circumstances of the October 2004 accident.
Laabs had been one of three passengers in a 1999 Porsche Carrera being driven by James Dimeo northbound on Ridgecrest Road near Victorville. Dimeo allegedly had taken the car, which belonged to his parents, without their permission in order to show his friends how fast it could go.
At the intersection with Pebble Beach Drive, Dimeo’s vehicle struck another car making a left turn. The Porsche was then propelled across the two southbound lanes of Ridgecrest Road, jumped the curb, slid across the sidewalk and struck a concrete light pole, causing the pole to break at the base.
According to police reports, the car eventually came to rest with its front end “well beyond the paved sidewalk” which measured six feet, two inches wide at the site of the accident. The pole was undisputedly located 18 inches from the curb.
One of Dimeo’s passengers was killed and Laabs lost both of her legs. Dimeo was later cited for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving at an unsafe speed, and failing to yield the right of way.
Laabs filed suit against Edison, as well as against Victorville and San Bernardino County. Summary judgment rulings in favor of the city and county were affirmed in earlier appeals.
Laabs alleges that Edison was negligent in installing the pole too close to the curb. On remand, following the appeals court’s 2009 ruling that the utility might have owed a duty to the plaintiff with regard to the placement of the pole, Edison argued that placement of light poles is regulated by the PUC and thus cannot be the subject of a tort action, pursuant to Public Utilities Code Sec. 1759.
Justice Jeffrey King, however, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the PUC’s jurisdiction over the location of street lights is concurrent with that of local government, and that in this particular case, it was the city that exercised regulatory authority.
“Although the PUC has the authority to regulate the siting of light poles as a condition affecting or relating to the rates, tolls, rentals, classification, or service…the tariff [filed with the PUC] in this case indicates that the City, not the PUC, has control over the siting of light poles,” King explained.
As for the cross-complaint, he went on to say, the trial judge was correct in holding that the statutory requirement that a claim for damages be presented within six months of the accrual of the claim applied.
King rejected Edison’s argument that its cross-complaint for equitable indemnity was purely defensive in nature, and thus not subject to the claim-presentation requirement. The utility company’s cross-complaint, he said, raises issues outside of the original complaint, and “there was nothing that precluded [Edison] from filing a timely claim and cross-complaint against the City.”
The case is Southern California Edison Company v. City of Victorville, 13 S.O.S. 3086.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company