The California Court of Appeals ruled in a recent case arising out of a car accident that was an alleged road rage incident.
In the case, Jones v. Barnes, Cal. Ct. App., 6th Dist. (2014), the defendant was behind the plaintiff in a lefthand turn lane, when the plaintiff turned on his right turn signal, indicating that he did not intend to turn left. The plaintiff was apparently visiting the area, and so was unfamiliar with the particular street. The defendant somehow attempted to pass the plaintiff’s car, which caused them to collide, resulting in plaintiff’s car being pushed onto the curb. A nearby motorist had written down the defendant’s license plate, thinking that he was witnessing a road rage incident. Someone called the police to report the accident.
At trial, the jury found for the defendant, believing that the situation was not his fault. The defendant, plaintiffs, and the nearby motorists testified to their version of the facts at trial. The police report that was completed following the accident was excluded from the evidence, on the defendant’s motion. The plaintiffs filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The court denied the motion, finding that there was substantial evidence to support the jury’s finding.
The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the court of appeals. The court stated the relevant standard of law for reviewing a jury verdict is whether there was an absence of substantial evidence supporting the jury’s finding.
The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant was clearly at fault because their vehicle drove onto the curb, which would have been impossible, in their view, if the defendant had not pushed them onto there. However, the court of appeals noted, the plaintiffs did not offer any direct evidence of their theory of the accident, such as an accident re-construction expert’s testimony.
Additionally, the plaintiffs found fault with the jury’s failure to accept the nearby motorist witness’s testimony, but the court of appeals found that the jury was not required to take his account as truth. It is within the jury’s discretion to decide whether they believe witness testimony or not.
The plaintiffs also alleged various instances of jury misconduct. The court of appeals found that the plaintiffs had submitted evidence that one of the jurors claimed she had made her mind up two days into trial. However, the defendant submitted evidence to the contrary, with the relevant juror saying she had not said that. Therefore, because of the conflicting declarations, the court upheld the trial court’s decision on that matter, finding no juror misconduct.
Regarding an allegation that a juror introduced erroneous law, the court found that the relevant statement was based on that juror’s experiences, but not professional experience, and therefore, as an everyday life experience, it did not constitute juror misconduct.
The plaintiffs further challenged the verdict on the grounds that the trial court erred in concealing that the defendant had insurance/had spoken with an insurance agent in relation to the accident. However, the court of appeals found, California law prohibits the introduction of evidence of liability insurance as proof of fault, and, further, assuming the trial court did err on this point, it is the plaintiffs’ burden to establish that, absent the error, there was a reasonable probability of a different result. The court found that the defendant’s testimony did not make any indications regarding being at fault, and that he had sought information regarding whether he was legally required to make a police report, therefore making his belief of fault irrelevant on that particular point.
The plaintiffs also argued about the exclusion of the police report, but they did not state why it was error, or how it was prejudicial. Therefore, the court of appeals treated the argument as abandoned.
Lastly, the plaintiff argued that the court erred in granting the defendants the payment of certain fees under a 998 offer, which is a mechanism that allows defendants to give an offer before trial. If the offer is not accepted, they can recover costs. The court found that, “[w]here, as here, the offeror obtains a judgment more favorable than its offer, the judgment constitutes prima facie evidence showing the offer was reasonable and the offeror is eligible for costs as specified in section 998.” The court further found that defendants make more modest offers when they believe they have a strong case, and therefore the settlement offered was not unreasonable.
The judgment was thus affirmed.
If you have been injured in a car accident, it is important to understand your rights so that you can ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. The lawyers at Sharifi Firm, PLC have significant experience in handling car accident cases throughout California. If you have been involved in a car accident, contact us today for a free consultation. We can be reached through this website, or by calling (866) 422-7222.
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