November 10, 2007

Government Entity Liability

Background and Expertise

The firm has familiarity with most of the issues that arise in general tort claims against government entities, including claims presentation requirements and timing, variances in claims, immunities of both individual employees and entities, dangerous condition including roadway design and signing, signal design and timing, bicycle path design, sidewalk defects, inverse condemnation including flooding issues, nuisance, school supervision, playground injuries, and student attacks, and the methods by which these issues are raised to resolve the case prior to trial.

The firm was added to the ICRMA (Independent Cities Risk Management Authority) Approved Attorney Panel List in 1994.

The most extensive municipal case we have handled involved the flooding of Lake Elsinore. Mr. Hansen represented the City of Lake Elsinore.(Lake Elsinore Recreation Area v. State of California, et. al.) The County of Riverside and the State of California were also defendants along with various municipal water districts. The plaintiff was a concessionaire on the shores of the lake suing under the theory of inverse condemnation. All aspects of the case were convoluted but revolved around the City's adoption and maintenance of a outflow channel and related over crossings. A great deal of historical data was gathered through historic city council minutes in developing the defense along with expert engineering analysis. Historic treaties involving water supply between the City, County and local private water companies also were a factor.

The State was represented by Deputy Attorney General Randall B. Christison, now one of the contributing authors to CEB's California Government Tort Liability Practice 4th ed., long known as the Bible for many municipal law specialists. The City settled out just a week before trial for a nominal sum, while the State, with slightly different defenses, obtained a judgment on the pleadings which was confirmed by the California Supreme Court.

Mr. Hansen also litigated a related multi-million dollar subrogation case on a dismissal motion up through the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District after preparing and arguing the matter successfully in the Court of Appeal on behalf of the City of Lake Elsinore. (Safeco Insurance Co. v. County of Riverside et. al.)

Mr. Hansen has also represented numerous reclamation districts in and around the Stockton and Marysville area during the floods of the late 1980s in which levees broke and overflowed causing millions of dollars in property damage and crop destruction. Mr. Hansen has worked with various city planning and redevelopment departments over issues concerning upgrades to the Los Angeles River and the alleged flood threat to10 surrounding cities in the Los Angeles River drainage area.

Mr. Hansen has defended sidewalk defect cases, one in particular involving a small child tripping and breaking a glass baby bottle in her face lacerating her eye. The City of Los Angeles settled out for a nominal sum while the baby bottle manufacturer funded the majority of the settlement. Mr. Hansen has also been involved in a number or dangerous condition cases involving highway design and is very familiar with the Caltrans Highway Design Manual as it relates to bikeways and bicycle traffic.

Mr. Hansen was also involved in litigating a road collapse / sinkhole issue with the City of Simi Valley where a vehicle was literally swallowed up in the hole due to a slow underground water main leak.

More recently he was involved in a wrongful death case with the City of LaCanada-Flintridge, the County of Los Angeles and Caltrans. The issue was a dangerous condition of an intersection and inadequate signal timing. The court held on summary judgment that the discretionary immunity applied to the approval of the timing plans and that the "trap" exception did not apply. Numerous depositions of county engineers were taken along with design and biomechanical experts. A video recreation of the accident was also completed.

Mr. Hansen has represented a number of small school districts, Walnut Valley, Norwalk, Paramount and Pasadena, to name a few, on issues such as proper playground equipment and supervision, student attacks involving weapons and inverse condemnation / nuisance issues.

Even though not historically relevant in municipal law the firms coverage experience is becoming more and more relevant in all fields of litigation. For example, recently in City of South El Monte v. Southern California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, (28 Cal. App. 4th 701) the court held that self-insurance pools are subject to the legal principles applicable to commercial insurance carriers. Some commentators have noted that this decision will lead to an expansion of coverage and duty to defend and a corresponding increase in the cost for participation in these pools.

Mr. Hansen’s coverage experience has been gained working for both insureds and insurers. He has worked on a declaratory relief action where the issue was coverage for inverse condemnation. This matter was resolved in the 4thDistrict Court of Appeal in City of Laguna Beach v. Mead Reinsurance Corp., 226 Cal. App. 3d 822. He has been involved in coverage issues in many substantive areas including CGL policies, products/completed operations coverages, homeowners and auto policies and was designated coverage counsel for Underwriters at Lloyds on professional liability policies. He is familiar with declaratory relief actions since the Montrose Chemical decision, rescission, first party bad faith, aggregate impairment concerns, primary/excess coverage issues, defense obligations under California Civil Code section 2860 and agent/broker issues. He has defended the largest insurer in the US on a number of significant first party (and third party) bad faith cases, many arising out of coverage disputes. A coverage attorney in this area should have both coverage experience and municipal tort experience as this is invaluable in preparing coverage opinions.

Law Offices of Steven W. Hansen | | 562 866 6228
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