California Court Upholds Determination that Plaintiff Caused Collision when Trial Court Made Findings of Fault and Credibility Based on their Observation and Evaluation of Testimony

The California Court of Appeal recently issued a judgment affirming a lower court’s judgment against a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit. Following a motor vehicle collision in San Diego, the plaintiff brought personal injury claims against the County. The trial court issued a minute order thvehicle crashat determined the plaintiff had caused the accident when he failed to exercise caution while exiting his driveway and collided with a County employee driving a County vehicle.

On appeal, plaintiff challenged the finding that he was at fault for causing the collision.  The appellate standard for review is one of substantial evidence, and the court made clear that an appeal does not serve as a second hearing, but determines whether any error occurred in the trial court proceedings. If there was error, the court must determine whether it was prejudicial to the defendant.

The court also stated that appellants must provide adequate records if they are challenging a trial court’s findings.  This is based on the rule that an order or judgment is presumed to be correct, and appellants must demonstrate prejudicial error to be successful on appeal.

In the trial court proceedings, plaintiff represented himself, and three witnesses testified, including plaintiff.  A Department of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer stated that plaintiff’s version of the events did not match the location of the debris/fluid on the road. According to the CHP officer, both cars had suffered major damage and plaintiff was being attended to by paramedics. The CHP officer had concluded in his statement that plaintiff failed to yield, and had entered the roadway in an unsafe manner.

The appellate court reviewed the lower court’s summary of plaintiff’s testimony. Plaintiff denied being the cause of the collision.  He did not offer evidence of physical injuries or medical special damages.  

Defendant stated in his own testimony that he had been driving the County van, and plaintiff’s car had blocked the eastbound lane. When defendant attempted to take action to avoid hitting plaintiff’s vehicle, plaintiff rolled forward and defendant could not avoid a collision.

In their ruling, the trial court stated that plaintiff’s version of the accident did not make sense, based on the damage to the wheels, as well as other testimony such as the debris documented by the CHP officer.  The trial court had found that the other two witnesses were more credible than plaintiff, and that defendant’s version of the accident made more sense.

Basing their credibility determinations on the factors set forth in California jury instructions (CACI 107), the court stated that plaintiff had not proven his case by a preponderance of the evidence. By failing to exercise caution when emerging from his driveway, the court found that plaintiff had violated Vehicle Code section 20804 (a).  That, according to the trial court, was the substantial factor that caused the accident. The court entered judgment against plaintiff, and he appealed.

In affirming the judgment of the trial court, the appellate court stated that the lower court had based their findings of credibility and fault on their own observation of the trial testimony. On appeal, the plaintiff had presented a partial clerk transcript, but not the reporter’s transcript. The appellate court concluded that without a settled statement or a reporter’s transcript, they could not conduct a meaningful review of plaintiff’s challenge to the trial court’s findings.

At Sharifi Firm, individuals hurt in a motor vehicle collision receive legal guidance and representation from skilled car accident attorneys. Throughout Southern California, we advocate for accident victims asserting their rights to compensation. We offer a complimentary consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222 or through our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Upholds Finding that Defendant Not Liable for Incident on Bike Path in Santa Monica, as Plaintiff Had Not Set Forth Uncontradicted Evidence, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 13, 2017

California Court Determines Substantial Evidence Supported the Jury Verdict When Driver’s Failure to Properly Observe Intersection was not Negligent as a Matter of Law, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, October 27, 2016

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