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

Recently, the California Court of Appeal upheld a jury verdict finding that the defendant was not negligent in a two-car vehicle accident in which the plaintiff was injured. The appellate court looked at precedent to conclude that negligence remains a question of fact, and when the evidence demonstrates that the defendant driver showed some level of care and may have acted reasonably, even if a collision resulted, they may not be deemed negligent.

The collision occurred when defendant Joshua Nozar attempted to cross an intersection in his Range Rover to secure a parking spot and collided with plaintiff Sassa Minnegren, operating her small car.  Ms. Minnegren sued Mr. Nozar for negligence.

After hearing testimony from two eyewitnesses as well as the defendant, the jury rendered a special verdict in favor of Mr. Nozar. Mr. Nozar had testified that he looked and saw Ms. Minnegren’s car approaching the intersection, but he thought he had enough time to make it through the intersection safely. The trial court entered the judgment on the special verdict, and Ms. Minnegren filed motions for a new trial and JNOV, based on the insufficiency of the evidence. Both motions were denied by the trial court. Ms. Minnegren appealed.

In their discussion, the court of appeal stated that Ms. Minnegren wanted the judgment reversed because she argued it was not supported by substantial evidence. The court stated substantial evidence is evidence that is legally significant, reasonable, credible, and of solid value. Inferences can constitute substantial evidence if they are the product of logic and reason.

Next, the court stated that for a plaintiff to prevail on a negligence claim, they must show that the defendant breached a duty of care that they owed and that this breach caused damages.  The breach of a duty and the resulting damages are questions of fact.  Negligence can arise from either acting or failing to act. Someone is deemed negligent when they do something that a reasonably careful person in the same situation would not do.

For auto accidents, the law makes clear that mistakes of judgment are not negligence.  If the party involved in a crash exercised some care, the question of whether that care rises to the level of an ordinary person under the circumstances remains a question of fact, to be determined by a judge or jury.

Here, the court stated that the general rule is a driver’s failure to maintain a lookout that observes everything that may be readily seen may be negligent. If the driver testifies he looked, the question is whether he used proper care. According to the appellate court, this question is for the court or jury.  Additionally, when a car enters an intersection before another car approaches, the first driver has a right to assume the entering car will yield the right of way.  The fact that an accident took place does not demonstrate that the vehicle was a hazard, in the legal sense.

The court stated that they were not provided a complete record and therefore could not determine if the jury was properly instructed on the law. Nevertheless, they turned to the merits of the case and stated that Ms. Minnegren argued that Mr. Nozar had admitted fault and therefore taken the issue of negligence out of the jury’s hands, requiring them to find for Ms. Minnegren as a matter of law.  Here, Mr. Nozar’s testimony indicated he exercised a measure of care, and it was therefore for the jury to determine whether he had exercised due care.

The substantial evidence test requires courts to view the record in a light favorable to the verdict, with any conflict resolved in favor of the verdict. A jury’s determination is to be disturbed, if at all, only when the record shows there was no substantial evidence in support of the verdict.

Here, objectively, Ms. Minnegren’s speed and position did not make it safe for Mr. Nozar to enter the intersection. Based on Mr. Nozar’s testimony, the jury could have found that Mr. Nozar actually perceived he could safely proceed, and this was a reasonable perception. In other words, the court stated that the jury may have concluded the evidence was insufficient to show whether Mr. Nozar’s perception had been reasonable. Therefore, Ms. Minnegren did not meet her burden of proof.

The court stated that since substantial evidence supported the jury’s verdict, the motion for a new trial and motion for JNOV were properly denied.

At Sharifi Firm, our car accident attorneys provide legal guidance and representation to victims and their families throughout Southern California in personal injury claims for compensation. We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222 or completing our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of Defendants Because Plaintiff’s Injuries From Multiple Car Accidents Had Healed, and Ongoing Medical Issues Were Unrelated to Accidents, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, October 17, 2016

California Court Finds Substantial Evidence Supported Jury’s Finding that Defendant’s Negligence Did not Cause Plaintiff’s Injuries in Rear End Collision, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 4, 2016

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