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Two women were fatally electrocuted after a Valley Village car accident on Thursday, August 23, 2012, when the first went to help the injured driver of a car accident and the second when she went to help the first woman. Several others reportedly suffered less serious electrical burn injuries and are expected to make a full recovery.

Apparently, the driver, a 19 year old from Glendale, driving a sports utility vehicle (SUV), lost control of his vehicle, possibly due to high speed, when traveling through the intersection of Magnolia Boulevard and Ben Avenue, striking a concrete light standard and fire hydrant with such force to knock them both over. This created a dangerous and deadly combination as water quickly pooled into the intersection, causing the wrongful death of two good Samaritans and severe injuries to others who were electrocuted and burned.

One passerby, Irma Zamora, reportedly called 911 then rushed from her vehicle and ran to assist the driver of the SUV. Unbeknownst to her, the water in the intersection was electrified and when she stepped into the water she was immediately electrocuted to death. The fire department estimated that her wrongful death was caused by approximately 48,000 volts of electricity. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mrs. Zamora, age 40, of Burbank, Los Angeles County, was known as one to help others. According to family members, her selfless action was typical.

Another woman, not yet identified, also died when, as she tried to help Mrs. Zamora and touched her, she also was electrocuted to death. Reportedly, at least six (6) others, including the driver of the SUV and a Los Angeles police officer, were electrocuted, severely injured and required hospitalization.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited the Valley Village traffic collision site, praising the two good Samaritans as heroes. He also reminded others to carefully assess such situations before rushing into them and to wait for professionals to arrive.
One former resident of Valley Village who is very knowledgeable about car accidents and electricity, R. Freeman, advised that after a car accident one should never go near pooled water when there is a damaged electrical device, such as a damaged power pole, that could possibly electrify the pooled water and, in fact, one should move far away as quickly as possible and wait for the fire department to handle the situation.

One may read and even hear more about this incident via the Los Angeles Times video link.

There are many possible legal issues raised by this car accident and electrocution accident, including the following:

• If the young driver of the SUV is found to have been negligent or perhaps even reckless in the operation of his SUV, is he legally responsible for the electrocution wrongful deaths of the two good Samaritans, as well as for the electrical injuries to the others who also tried to help? In other words, if the young driver struck either of the good Samaritans, his liability for their wrongful deaths might seem obvious to many. But here the Samaritans were killed and some others injured only after they apparently voluntarily decided to help and some might argue “assumed the risk” of suffering injury. Further, under California law, one test of liability is whether the actual injury sustained was “foreseeable”. Certainly one could argue that when another’s negligence or carelessness creates an unsafe or dangerous condition, it is “foreseeable” that another might suffer injury or death while trying to help. Immediate investigation and preservation of evidence by a California Personal Injury Attorney should help resolve these issues.

• Did this young driver violate any laws, such as violating the speed limit or reckless driving? If so, his actions may be found to constitute “negligence per se”, subjecting him under California law to automatic or strict liability for at least some if not all of the damages that resulted.

• Is the city or some other government entity which is responsible for the intersection and general roads in this public area where this accident occurred also legally liable to some extent for the injuries and damages that occurred, including for possibly not having proper traffic signals or stop signs, a slower or lower speed limit, speed bumps, etc. Much might depend on whether there were any prior accidents resulting from speed or other related causes at or near this intersection that may be found to have given sufficient “notice” to the city or other controlling entity of the need to take proper remedial action prior to the time of the horrific accident. Immediate investigation by a California Personal Injury Attorney could help answer this question.

• Is the city or other entity which is responsible for the electrical device that electrified the water responsible for not having a system that cuts power when there is a short, similar to GFI switches that are common in household electrical outlets? Is such a system even available or feasible, especially when it might result in the loss of power to others dependent on same (e.g., to power medical life support systems)?

• Is the young driver legally responsible for the damages to the fire hydrant and light standard?

• Does the young driver have sufficient liability insurance coverage to pay for the horrific injuries and damages for which he is legally responsible?

• Is the young driver also the sole registered owner of the SUV?

• Under California law, the owner of a motor vehicle, such as this SUV, is vicariously liable for the actions of a permissive driver up to certain statutory limits, generally about $30,000.00 for injuries, including wrongful death, to two or more persons. Thus, if the registered owner is someone other than the young driver, there may be additional liability imposed by California law. Clearly, in this situation, this would be an insignificant amount based on all the harm that resulted from this accident.

• However, if there is a separate registered owner or owners, that person or persons’ insurance policy may provide additional insurance coverage to pay for the damages caused by this accident.

• Then, the question arises whether the driver, if not the sole owner of the SUV, was a “permissive user”? In general, it is presumed that the driver of the vehicle is the “permissive user”, especially if the driver and owner(s) are related, for the owner to try to rebut.

• Further, if the driver was not the registered owner of the SUV and was a known dangerous or unsafe risk to drive a motor vehicle, for example if this young driver had other accidents, speeding violations, a suspended license or no driver’s license at all, then there may be an issue of “negligent entrustment”, potentially subjecting the registered owner to unlimited damages.

As one can see, there are many areas of potential liability, many of which will depend on facts, theories and conclusions developed through investigation. Although one may expect the Los Angeles Police Department and Fire Department to conduct a careful and thorough investigation in light of the tragic and newsworthy circumstances, due to the possible conflict of interest created by the City investigating itself and the obvious horrific injuries and wrongful deaths, the families of those killed and severely injured should strongly consider their own private investigation, perhaps handled through an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney.

Our Personal Injury Attorneys have handled thousands of serious accident injury and wrongful death claims resulting from car accidents and negligent, reckless or other unsafe and dangerous actions and conditions on Los Angeles and Valley roads. Should you or anyone you care about suffer any electrocution injury or wrongful death, please let us know as soon as possible so we may assist your family and you with proper investigation, preservation of evidence, medical care and financial recovery. You may contact us at any time for an absolutely FREE consultation:

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