California Appellate Court Upholds Finding that Plaintiff Partially Caused Motor Vehicle Collision

In a recent case before the California Court of Appeal, the court reviewed a jury verdict in a personal injury lawsuit stemming from a car accident. In this case, the court found the evidence supported the verdict, particularly the finding of DSC_0004comparative fault on behalf of the driver.  Since the plaintiff had been speeding, it was appropriate for the jury to find her conduct partially caused the collision.

Plaintiff Charlene Adams and defendant Beth Jordan were involved in a motor vehicle collision at the intersection of Gilman and Fourth Streets.  The posted speed limit on Gilman Street is 25 miles per hour.  At the time of the crash, traffic was congested, and it was dark. Lowered barriers blocked Gilman Street at a railroad crossing approximately one block west of Fourth Street.

The defendant testified she stopped at the stop sign at Gilman and slowly entered the intersection, crossing the westbound lane of Gilman Street. She looked down the eastbound lane and did not see approaching headlights. While crossing the eastbound lane, she was hit by the plaintiff’s car, driving east.  The defendant’s car spun around from the force of the impact.

At trial, an eyewitness read deposition testimony. The driver of the first car stopped at the railroad barrier in the eastbound lane of Gilman Street. He stated that the car behind him had been revving its engine, and when the barrier went up, it passed him by crossing into the westbound lane and accelerating quickly.  He then saw the car return to the eastbound lane, drive one or two blocks, and strike the defendant’s car.

The plaintiff testified she was the first car stopped at the railroad barrier, and while she was waiting, a car passed her, moving into the opposite lane of traffic and crossing the tracks. She stated she did not do the same, and when she entered the intersection, she was traveling at about 40 miles per hour when she was struck by the defendant’s car. Both sides presented expert testimony, with varying statements of the plaintiff’s speed.

The jury found that both parties were negligent, apportioning 80 percent of the fault to the plaintiff and 20 percent to the defendant. The plaintiff was awarded $4,723. The plaintiff contended that the evidence did not support the jury’s liability verdict, the court should not have allowed certain evidence at trial, and the court improperly refused the plaintiff’s requested jury instruction.

The court turned to the comparative fault doctrine. They stated that this flexible doctrine allows the trier of fact to consider all relevant criteria when determining fault.  The evidence here demonstrated that the plaintiff had been driving at between 35 and 40 miles per hour in a 25 miles per hour zone.  It was after dark, and there were congested traffic conditions.  Evidence demonstrated that the defendant cautiously proceeded through the intersection.  It was reasonable, the court stated, for the jury to find that the plaintiff’s speed or lack of care was 80 percent responsible for the collision.

The plaintiff had also argued that the trial court should not have allowed evidence related to her car pulling into the opposite lane to quickly cross the railroad tracks.  The appellate court stated that this evidence gave rise to an inference that she was impatient, and this was therefore relevant to her speed at the time of the collision.  They rejected her allegation that it was so prejudicial that it likely caused the jury to want to punish her.

Regarding the trial court’s refusal of the plaintiff’s request for a jury instruction that everyone has a right to presume others will obey the law, the appellate court found no error in the trial court’s refusal of the instruction.  The plaintiff’s position was that the defendant violated her duty of care at the intersection, and that the plaintiff used reasonable care in assuming drivers would not enter the intersection as she approached. The jury had received the standard instructions on vehicle negligence, including that a failure to use reasonable care when driving is negligence.

The court affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

At Sharifi Firm, our car accident attorneys provide guidance and representation to victims throughout Southern California in personal injury claims for compensation. Contact our office today for a free consultation at 866-422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Finds California Law Applies in Lawsuit Against Car Insurance Company Despite Fact that Collision Occurred in Arkansas, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 25, 2016

California Court of Appeals Allows Cross-Defendant to Recover Costs in Car Accident Lawsuit, Remands to Determine Reasonable and Necessary Costs, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 22, 2016

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