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The Morrison Law Journal
January 2021
Volume XVI, Edition 1

When Design Immunity Is Not Enough: Court of Appeal Rules That Public Entity May
Still Be Liable for a Failure to War In Public Throughfare Lawsuit - Even Where It Has
Design Immunity

By: Edward F. Morrison, Jr., Esq.
Larry A. Schwartz, Esq.

In a matter that could have substantial impacts on public entities in California, a
Califor ia Court of Appeal recently ruled in the case of Tansavatdi v. City of Rancho Palos Verdes
(2021) Westlaw 302858 ("Tansavatdi case") that, even if the public entity enjoys design immunity
involving a public roadway (or bicycle path) per Government Code
section 830.6, that does not necessarily preclude a failure to warn claim.

The Tansavatdi case involved a fatal bicycling accident in Rancho Palos Verdes
which ccurred in March 2016. The plaintiff, Betty Tansavatdi, asserted that her son,
Jonathan Tansavatdi, was riding his bicycle in the City of Rancho Palos Verdes when he collided
with a turning truck, suffering fatal injuries. Ms. Tansavatdi then filed a lawsuit against the
City, alleging a dangerous condition of public property under Government Code section 835.2.
According to the plaintiff, the City had created a dangerous condition by removing a bicycle
lane from the area of the accident, and had failed to warn of that dangerous
condition, leading to the accident and her son's death. The City asserted it was entitled to
design immunity under Government Code ยง 830.6. Under this provision, a public entity is
immune from liability for creating a dangerous condition if it shows that:
(1) a plan or design caused the injury; (2) the plan or design had received discretionary approval
before construction; and (3) substantial evidence supported the reasonableness of the plan or
design. The City relied on plans for a street resurfacing project which it claimed did not include
a bicycle lane at the site of the accident. The Trial Court granted the City's motion, concluding
that the City had proved entitlement to design immunity as a matter of law. However, the Trial
Court did not address the plaintiff's theory that the City was liable
for failing to warn of a dangerous condition.

The Court of Appeal held that the Trial Court properly ruled that the City had
established its design immunity defense and affirmed that portion of the judgment in favor of the
City. However, citing to the California Supreme Court's opinion in Cameron v. State of California
(1972) 7 Cal.3d 318, 327, the Court of Appeal ruled that the City, as a public entity, could be
held liable for failure to warn of a concealed dangerous condition even if that dangerous condition
was covered by design immunity. The Court of Appeal then reversed the judgment in part and
remanded to the Trial Court to consider the plaintiff's
failure to warn theory.



The Tansavatdi case is important in that it holds that a solid design immunity defense
may not shield a public entity from a serious injury claim where a failure to warn theory is also
asserted. Since a failure to warn theory is likely to accompany a public thoroughfare injury
claim, a failure to warn theory should be addressed in any summary judgment motion.

About the Authors: Edward F. Morrison, Jr. is the founding partner and Larry A. Schwartz is Of
Counsel to The Morrison Law Group, a professional corporation. Their biographies
can be viewed at .

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