Water valve leak freezes, forming 'black ice' that causes collision

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Verdicts & Settlements: Utilities

October 8, 2009

Water valve leak freezes, forming 'black ice' that causes collision 

A 30-inch main water valve under a city street had been leaking for about 10 weeks. A day after temperatures had dropped to freezing, 19-year-old Yevgeniy Pinchuk was driving down the street when his car hit a patch of “black ice,” spun out of control, and came to rest in the intersection. Pinchuk got out of his vehicle as an approaching SUV slammed into it, sending him flying between 19 and 26 feet into the air before landing on the asphalt.

He suffered a herniated disk and a focal protrusion at L4-5. Pinchuk claimed about $43,200 in past medical costs and $300,000 in estimated future medical expenses.

Pinchuk sued the city department of water and power (DWP), alleging it failed to repair the leak or adequately barricade the affected area, thus creating a dangerous condition. The plaintiff claimed the DWP had previously received complaints about the leak and should have been aware of the possibility of the water freezing because it was January.

The DWP contended that it could not repair the leak because of a citywide moratorium on street closures. It also argued it was unaware of freezing temperatures in the area.

The jury awarded Pinchuk about $1.31 million. The court denied the defendant’s motions for j.n.o.v. and a new trial.

Citation: Pinchuk v. City of Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power, No. LCO80048 (Cal., Los Angeles Co. Super. June 25, 2009).

Plaintiff counsel: Rene J. Kern, Calabasas, California.

Plaintiff experts: Samuel D. White, accident reconstruction, Torrance, California; Richard H. Dickert, meteorology, Redondo Beach, California; Jacob Tauber, orthopedics, Glendale, California; John V. Crues, radiology, Los Angeles; and Harry Krueper, highway design & safety, San Bernardino, California.

Defense experts: Michael S. Verat, accident reconstruction, Camarillo, California; Edward Agaudo, meteorology, San Diego; Phillip Kanter, orthopedics, Beverly Hills, California; Stephen Rothman, radiology, Los Angeles; and David Royer, highway design safety, Santa Clarita, California.

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