A state appeals court has ruled that the victims of the July 2003 Santa Monica Farmers Market crash in which ten people were killed and more than 70 were injured can sue the city for failing to have adequate protection at the open-air market.
The California Second District Court of Appeals reinstated allegations Friday, October 12th, that the City of Santa Monica failed to adequately protect shoppers when then-86-year-old George Russell Weller drove his car through the Farmers Market on Arizona Avenue and into pedestrians at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
Weller, now nearly 91 years old, was convicted last year of ten counts of vehicular manslaughter for the crash and was sentenced to five years of probation.
In response to the appeals court ruling against the city, deputy Santa Monica city attorney Jeanette Schachtner said that the farmers market crash was a tragic occurrence but that the city should not be liable for Weller’s actions.
“Santa Monica and its residents should not be held responsible for the tragic consequences of Mr. Weller’s conduct,” Schachtner said.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled in July last year that Santa Monica had “design immunity” and was not liable in the suit. The city had argued that it was immune from liability in the crash because it had a proper traffic control plan in place at the time.
“We had a traffic plan that considered the safety of both the motorists and pedestrians at the market,” Schachtner said. “It was an appropriate traffic plan.”
At the time Weller drove through the open-air market, the city was using wooden sawhorses to block vehicles from entering the street, but now city vehicles are used as barricades.
The state appeals court ruled that a “reasonable inference” exists that the city’s handwritten traffic control plan was not the same as the plan that was approved by the city’s traffic engineer in 1987 and that the trial court should vacate its order from last year.
But Schachtner said the court’s ruling is a “question of fact” and the city is confident that it will be able to prove it had design immunity at the trial.
“The city still has an opportunity to demonstrate to the court that it is entitled to design immunity,” Schachtner said.
The city does not plan to appeal the appellate court decision, she said. The trial is scheduled to begin February 11th.