Bicyclist is struck by car in or near bike lane. $4.7M. Los Angeles County.

Summary

City's dangerous bike lane said to contribute to death of bicyclist.

The Case

  • Case Name: Knopp v. City of Los Angeles, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC 665467
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Tuesday, November 26, 2019
  • Type of Action: Bicycle Accident, Dangerous Condition Public Property, Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Margaret L. Oldendorf
  • Plaintiffs:
    Jennifer Knopp, 57, wife of decedent
    Kevin Knopp, 27, son of decedent
  • Defendants:
    City of Los Angeles
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $4,738,369
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 80% to driver and 20% to City of Los Angeles.
  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 9 days.
  • Jury Polls: 9-3 (dangerous condition); 12-0 (damages).

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Grassini & Wrinkle by Larry Grassini and Bobby Reagan, Woodland Hills.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Deputy City Attorneys Steven M. McGuire and Susan Mavian. (For City of Los Angeles.)

    Tseng & Associates by Jennifer Tseng, Thousand Oaks. (For driver, Joshua Willis.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Ed Ruzak, traffic engineering, Fountain Valley.

    Jon Landerville, engineering and accident reconstruction, Torrance.

    Paul Kayfetz, comparison photogrammetry, Bolinas.

    David Fractor, economics, Pasadena.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Rock E. Miller, traffic and civil engineering, Orange.

    Stephen Blewett, traffic reconstruction, Altadena.

    Henricus “Harm” Jansen, accident reconstruction, El Segundo.

    Ted Vavoulis, economics, Los Angeles.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff Jennifer Knopp is the 57-year-old wife of Jeffrey Knopp, and Plaintiff Kevin Knopp is the 27-year-old son of Jeffrey Knopp. Jeffrey Knopp was a 60-year-old truck driver for Frito-Lay. Jennifer and Jeffrey lived together in Sunland, and Kevin lived in a different city and visited home twice a year.

    On November 1, 2016, Jeffery was riding his bicycle on Foothill Boulevard in Sunland when he was hit by a car driven by defendant driver Willis. Jeffrey died at the scene of the crash.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That in addition to defendant driver's negligence, the City’s roadway constituted a dangerous condition of public property that contributed to Mr. Knopp’s death in that there was insufficient separation between the vehicle lanes and the bike lane.  

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    City of Los Angeles contended the driver’s negligence was the sole cause of the accident. Yet in closing argument, the City asked the jury to attribute negligence to Knopp if they felt that was warranted. Evidence of Knopp's negligence was based on eyewitness testimony that Knopp rode his bicycle from the shoulder into traffic lanes without looking.

    The City further relied on the fact that there had been no other accidents at this location in the twenty years since the design had been completed. The City relied heavily on the absolute defense of Design Immunity under Gov’t Code §830.6 and the absence of any Loss of Design Immunity under CACI 1124 (Cornette).

    It also relied on the defense of Signage Immunity under §830.4 and Traffic Signals and Warnings Immunity under §830.8.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Wrongful death of husband and father.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff Demand during Trial: Seven figures. Per defense counsel, plaintiff's last demand before trial was $18,000,000.
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $50,000

Additional Notes

The majority of the witnesses and evidence during the trial was directed to the absence of a Dangerous Condition, Design Immunity and Loss of Design Immunity. Notwithstanding this, plaintiffs successfully moved for partial directed verdict prior to the close of evidence on the grounds that the City had not met its burden in establishing the Discretionary Approval element of design immunity, based on this firm’s prior cases of Cornette v. Dept. of Transportation (2001) 26 Cal.4th 63 and Castro v. City of Thousand Oaks (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 1451.

Thus, the issues of Design Immunity and Loss of Design Immunity were no longer for the jury to decide. This left for the jury the issues of Dangerous Condition of Public Property (and all of its elements), negligence on the part of the driver and the bicyclist, damages, and apportionment. The jury found the driver 80% at fault and the City 20% at fault.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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