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Aguehounde v. District of Columbia

666 A.2d 443 (1995)

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Aguehounde v. District of Columbia

District of Columbia Court of Appeals

666 A.2d 443 (1995)

Facts

Georges Aguehounde (plaintiff) was crossing a street at an intersection with a traffic signal in the District of Columbia (defendant). Although Aguehounde looked to his left a few steps before reaching the intersection, he did not see a car approaching from his left driven by Erica Davis. Aguehounde stepped into the crosswalk just as Davis’s car entered the crosswalk. Aguehounde was hit by Davis’s car and was paralyzed. Because of the traffic-light timing, Davis’s car was still in the intersection while the light in the opposing direction had already turned green. The timing of traffic lights to ensure that cars on one street have cleared the intersection before the traffic light turns green on the perpendicular street is called the clearance interval. Aguehounde and his wife sued the District of Columbia for negligence in the timing of the traffic lights. During the trial, evidence established that the clearance interval was 4.5 seconds before being reduced to 4.0 seconds the year before Aguehounde’s accident. Aguehounde argued that the clearance interval should have been set to 6.0 seconds to ensure pedestrian safety. A 4.0- or 4.5-second clearance interval may have maximized traffic flow but not pedestrian safety. A District of Columbia representative testified that the District of Columbia did not regularly consider economic or social factors in setting clearance intervals. The jury awarded Aguehounde over $7 million in damages. The District of Columbia moved for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that it was immune from suit because the timing of the traffic lights was a discretionary act.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (King, J.)

Dissent (Schwelb, J.)

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