Pham et al. v. Southern California Edison Company (May 2, 2023, B316026) 2023 WL 3189810

While on their nightly walk to a neighborhood park, the plaintiffs’ parents were hit in a crosswalk.  The plaintiffs sued Caltech and GMSR’s client, the public utility that provided streetlighting in the area.  The plaintiffs contended that because of Caltech’s efforts to mitigate light pollution at its nearby Mount Palomar observatory, the streetlighting in the area was inadequate, which adversely affected drivers’ visibility.

The utility moved for summary judgment.  It relied on decades of settled law holding that municipalities and public utilities owe no duty to provide any streetlighting at all, and that claims of inadequate street lighting fall within that rule.  The plaintiffs’ opposition, supported by multiple expert declarations, sought to demonstrate an exception to this rule based on allegedly dangerous conditions in the intersection.  Their claims included (1) excessive slope of the cross street, which induced drivers not to fully stop before turning into the crosswalk where the accident occurred, and (2) excessive contrast in the intersection’s streetlighting because the crosswalk had darker pavement than the rest of the intersection, making the light there dimmer than the rest of the intersection and pedestrians harder to see at night.  The trial court found no duty and granted summary judgment.

The Court of Appeal affirmed.  It agreed with GMSR’s argument that because the summary judgment opposition went well beyond the boundaries of the complaint, plaintiffs’ arguments could not be considered and the evidence supporting them was irrelevant.

To read the Court of Appeal opinion, click HERE.