Did City Admit Culpability in Boardwalk Hit and Run by Calling for Traffic Bollards?

For the most part, Council Member Mike Bonin and the City of Los Angeles have received high marks for their response to Saturday evening’s vehicular attack on the Venice Boardwalk. However, following Tuesday’s vote to install temporary bollards to physically block vehicular access to the Boardwalk, a rumble began that the city may have erred.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin places a flower at a memorial for Venice hit-and-run victim Alice Gruppioni Monday on the Venice Boardwalk. Credit: John Schreiber/Patch

The new argument, voiced yesterday by KFI 640′s Bill Handel, is that by calling for safety improvements to quickly and forcefully, Bonin and the entire City Council are admitting guilt and basically paving the way for the family of victims to sue the city.

Not surprisingly, this argument is rejected by Bonin and other city officials.

“Hindsight is always 20/20, but this tragedy also affords us a rare opportunity to allow foresight to come into focus,” Bonin wrote in a statement. “This horrible incident showed vulnerabilities at the boardwalk and we have an obligation to do everything in our power to ensure this sort of tragedy cannot happen again.”

Bonin’s office went on to describe the act of Nathan Campbell, the man who drove onto the boardwalk and literally swerved to run-down pedestrians, killing one, as something that is unavoidable. Cameras show Campbell scouting the boardwalk immediately before getting in his car and attacking the pedestrians. If he hadn’t chose a car as his weapon, Campbell would likely have chosen something else.

Suing the city over not having bollards in place at Venice, when it is pretty clear that Campbell didn’t “accidentally” drift on to the crosswalk, would be akin to suing the owner of a building if a gunman managed access to their roof before going on a rampage. A lawsuit against the city could have a chilling impact on traffic safety in the city. If the city suddenly becomes scared to make road improvements after the crash because of a fear that it makes the city more vulnerable to legal attacks.

Even if a lawyer sees a potential payday for suing the city, it appears unlikely that the Los Angeles would be found liable if Campbell is found guilty of murder. A scan of lawsuits against cities for negligence when the attacker is guilty of murder seem limited to cases involving response time of ambulances or the police or when a police officer is actually being accused of the crime.

However, the legal record becomes more complicated if Campbell is found not-guilty of murder. The number of cases where cities are found negligent for not having the best safety features on the road is higher. I wasn’t able to find one where bollards were involved. Usually lawsuits stem from a lack of crosswalks or appropriate traffic signals.

Of course, the best thing Los Angeles or any city can do is create a road system that prioritizes safety over speed for all road users. The city can, and should, be held accountable when negligence is a cause in a traffic crash. However, lawsuits that scare officials from making safety improvements in the end will make Los Angeles a more dangerous place to use our streets.

Earlier this week, Streetsblog implored the city to learn a lesson from Saturday’s crash. Let’s hope they don’t learn the wrong one.