Horvitz & Levy LLP successfully represented Southern California Gas Company (SCG) on appeal from a judgment in a wrongful death/premises liability case. Plaintiffs’ teenage daughter, Tiffany, died from injuries suffered in a fire that resulted when the car she was driving on a residential street inexplicably veered across an opposing lane of traffic, went up over a curb and bounced off a concrete wall, and then damaged a gas meter set assembly SCG had located almost a dozen feet away from the street. Plaintiffs claimed that SCG had and breached a duty to guard the meter set assembly against impacts such as the one caused by their daughter.
In a 2010 unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, agreed with SCG that it owed no such legal duty. The California Supreme Court granted plaintiffs’ petition for review, and later transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal after issuing its decision in Cabral v. Ralphs Grocery Co. (2011) 51 Cal.4th 764 (holding that no categorical exception to the general rule of ordinary care exempts drivers from potential liability to other freeway users for stopping alongside a freeway).
Following supplemental briefing and a second oral argument, the Court of Appeal issued a published decision again reversing the judgment with directions to enter judgment in favor of SCG. Based on public policy, the court held that “as to all owners and possessors of real and personal property who install and/or maintain fixed objects on private property a substantial distance (e.g., 11 feet, 4 inches) away from curbed, two-lane streets with 25-mile-per-hour limits,” “we apply a categorical exception to the Civil Code section 1714 duty of ordinary care generally owed to occupants of vehicles when those vehicles veer off the streets and strike fixed objects, resulting in damage to the vehicles and/or injuries to their occupants.” Accordingly, “SCG did not owe Tiffany or Plaintiffs a legal duty of care.”