Collisions Stemming from Inoperable Traffic Lights


Collisions Stemming from Inoperable Traffic Lights

Michael Rubinstein, Esq.

Drivers in Los Angeles often face a familiar scenario: They approach a busy intersection only to discover an inoperable traffic light. What happens if, ch”v, someone is injured in a collision that stems from an inoperable traffic light?

The answer could depend on who is responsible for maintaining that particular traffic light, as discussed in a recent California Court of Appeal case, Lichtman v. Siemens Industries.

Joanne Lichtman, a partner at a large Los Angeles law firm, was traveling with her family when their car was broadsided at a busy Glendale intersection that had an inoperable traffic signal. Ms. Lichtman suffered life-changing injuries in the collision and became a quadriplegic. Siemens Industries contracted with the City of Glendale to maintain backup batteries for traffic signals in the city. Siemens employees had removed the backup batteries months before the fateful collision. This oversight was discovered after Ms. Lichtman’s injury.

After years of litigation, the California Court of Appeal reversed a lower court holding that dismissed Ms. Lichtman’s case. The Court ruled that since Siemens was a private contractor, it would be up to a jury to decide whether Siemens owed a legal duty of care to motorists like Ms. Lichtman.

The Lichtman case is groundbreaking, because previous cases established precedent holding that municipalities who maintain traffic lights do not owe a duty of care to motorists [White v. Southern California Edison 25 Cal.App.4th 442 (1994)]. In fact, municipalities do not have a duty to install traffic lights at all!

The White case is still valid law in California. The recent Lichtman decision shows just how nuanced these cases can be. Liability in inoperable traffic signal cases largely depends on whether the entity that maintains the traffic light is public or private. These cases are highly factual, and an attorney should be consulted to discuss the merits of the case.

Texting While Walking: Is it Illegal?

Texting while driving has become an international epidemic. Not far behind is another bad habit that is sapping peoples’ attention spans: texting while walking. Is it illegal in California?

Not yet. But many states are grappling with how to deal with this vexing problem.

In 2016, nearly 6000 pedestrians were killed in the United States, according to a recent New York Times article citing federal data. This was the highest number since 1990. One possible reason: Pedestrians are distracted now more than ever.

The City of Honolulu recently passed a law forbidding texting while crossing the street, with fines as high as $35 per violation. Some California cities have been putting up signs that say “No Selfie Zone” and “Heads up! Cross the street! Then Update Facebook.” Pedestrians who are distracted on their cell phones are up to four times more likely to jaywalk, cross on a red light, and not look both ways before crossing.

We’ve all seen distracted pedestrians. Many of us are probably guilty of some of the above-listed behaviors. Let’s bring common sense back to crossing the street! Just remember: It can wait!

Wishing everyone in our community a joyous and freilichen Chanukah!

Michael Rubinstein is a Los Angeles based personal injury and accident attorney. He may be reached by visiting, or by calling 213-293-6075.