Key Decisions

July 2012 – State Not Liable For Failing To Light Roadways

(filed under: Key Decisions Archive | August 16, 2012)

The State Was Not Liable For Failing To Light Public Roadways

Mixon v. State Pacific Gas & Electric
(Cal. Ct. of App., 1st Dist.), filed May 29, 2012 


A motorist struck and injured a boy walking with his family while crossing the street at an intersection. The intersection has a marked crosswalk, but no signal lights and no street lights directly overhead. The injured boy and his siblings sued the motorist, the State of California and Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E).

The plaintiffs sued the State alleging that it maintained the street intersection in a dangerous condition because of the lighting configuration, lack of traffic control signals and signs, the placement of signs, the type of crosswalk markings, and the grade of the intersection. They sued PG&E for allegedly failing to provide adequate lighting with overhead street lights.

The trial court granted the State and PG&E summary judgment. It found that the intersection was not in a dangerous condition and that there was no duty to provide lighting.


The Court of appeal affirmed.

A “[d]angerous condition” in a public property is defined as “a condition of property that creates a substantial (as distinguished from a minor, trivial or insignificant) risk of injury when such property . . . is used with due care in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable that it will be used.”

Third party conduct by itself, unrelated to the condition of the property, does not constitute a “dangerous condition” for which a public entity may be held liable. There must be a defect in the physical condition of the property and that defect must have some causal relationship to the third party conduct that injures the plaintiff for a public entity to be liable.

A public entity is under no duty to light its streets. Since there was no duty to provide lighting, there was no negligence in failing to provide brighter lighting or consistently bright lighting.

The Legislature has expressly declared that “[a] condition is not a dangerous condition . . . merely because of the failure to provide regulatory traffic control signals, stop signs, yield right-of-way signs, or speed restrictions signs, as described by the Vehicle Code, or distinctive roadway markings [of parallel dividing lines] as described in Section 21460 of the Vehicle Code.” Thus, the state could not be liable because of anything having to do with signals or signs.

The undisputed facts established the grade of the road was within specifications. The State could not be liable because of the grade of the road.

A public utility, like PG&E, cannot be charged with greater liability than the public entity itself in regard to the lighting.


The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that dim lighting would give rise to a cause of action even if zero lighting would not support a cause of action. The court also rejected several other companion arguments based on criticisms of the crosswalk and intersection.