Court of appeals decision affirms that cities must make roads safe

A lawsuit charging the city of Kansas City, Missouri, with negligence in a pedestrian fatality has resulted in an appeals court decision affirming that governments are liable in such cases.

The decision was handed down in January 2007.

Pedestrian Pei Chen was crossing Troost Avenue to attend class at the University of Missouri-Kansas City when she we struck by a car.

Chen was crossing in a marked crosswalk, used by grade school students as well as university students, which was marked as a school crossing.

However, numerous complaints had been received about that crossing point and the city had been asked numerous times to install better and more visible pedestrian crossing facilities. Previous pedestrian collisions had happened at the same location.

The appeals court held that because the city knew of the dangerous conditions in that location but had not taken steps to address the conditions, the city did not have "governmental immunity".

In short, the city knew there was a dangerous condition, the city did nothing, the city can be sued.

In the appeals court's words:

immunity is waived for the "negligent, defective or dangerous design" of a highway or road.
This decision reaffirms the importance of informing governments in writing of dangerous conditions such as those very often encountered while bicycling.

The suggested language in MoBikeFed's Dangerous Conditions Letter is a simple way to make sure that the right message gets through to government officials.

An important reason for the success of the Pei Chen case is that officials had "constructive knowledge" of the dangers of that location. That is, people had taken the trouble to write and tell the city what the problem was, why it was dangerous, and ask them to take action to fix it. Despite that knowledge, the city had not solved the problem or even studied it seriously.

Those two conditions (knowledge of danger plus lack of action in fixing it) are the reasons the city is liable in this case.