California Court Holds Evidence that Defendant Left the Scene of Accident After Striking Plaintiff with Automobile Properly Excluded by Trial Court

Recently, the California Court of Appeal addressed whether the lower court had properly excluded evidence that the defendant in a pedestrian collision lawsuit had fled the scene of the accident, without rendering aid to the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleged that excluding this evidence prejudiced her, since she suffered mental distress due to the defendant’s conduct. The defendant countered that she had already been deemed negligent, and the issue before the jury was damages.  The evidence, according to the defendant and affirmed by the appellate court, was not relevant to the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s damages.

Together with her husband, the plaintiff brought a complaint against the defendant for negligence and loss of consortium after the defendant struck the plaintiff while she was crossing a street on North Figueroa Avenue in Los Angeles.  The defendant admitted negligence but disputed the extent of the alleged damages and injuries.  The trial court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs on negligence and awarded the plaintiffs a net judgment of $876.85.  The plaintiffs appealed from the judgment.

In her appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court should not have excluded evidence of the defendant’s failure to stop, render aid, and identify herself.  She cited Vehicle Code section 20001 and 20003 in support.  These laws codify the duty of a driver involved in an accident to stop and provide personal information to a person hurt in an accident and to render aid if it is apparently necessary that treatment or transportation is needed.

The appellate court stated that these laws were enacted to prohibit drivers from leaving people in distress and are humanitarian acts required of drivers. Here, the court stated that the allegation of negligence was enough to give rise to liability, even if the defendant’s failure to stop and give aid proximately caused further injuries.  In this case, the plaintiff alleged that she suffered further mental distress because of the defendant leaving the scene.

The defendant argued any evidence of her failure to stop and render aid would have been unduly prejudicial and irrelevant.  The plaintiff was able to walk across the intersection and, according to the defendant, had not been left helpless on the pavement.  In opposition, the plaintiff argued that the defendant still had a legal duty to render aid, despite the fact that after being struck, the plaintiff was capable of walking away.

In short, the plaintiff argued the jury should decide whether abandonment without providing assistance caused emotional harm.

The trial court determined that the evidence that the defendant left the scene without rendering aid was “potentially inflammatory” and was more prejudicial than probative.  The court held that the evidence was not relevant to the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and damages.

The appellate court affirmed, finding that California law provides that a plaintiff may recover damages for a statutory violation if she is within the class of people for whose benefit the statute was enacted.  Here, there was no evidence that by the defendant leaving the scene, the plaintiff’s physical injuries had been exacerbated by not receiving prompt medical care. While the plaintiff alleged that she suffered emotional pain when she saw the defendant drive away, she did not cite legal authority that this kind of injury was intended to be addressed by the statute. Furthermore, the court held that the plaintiff bore the burden of proving that emotional distress was a harm the statute was intended to remedy.

The failure to stop and render aid had not been alleged as a proximate cause of further injuries to the plaintiff, and the court stated that the trial court had not erred in the conditional exclusion of this evidence under section 352 of the Evidence Code.  The court also noted that the contention that the plaintiff had been left helpless on the ground was not supported by the record, since eyewitness testimony stated she could walk across the intersection.

The court affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

After suffering injuries in a pedestrian accident, victims can assert their legal right to damages. The car accident attorneys at Sharifi Firm help people throughout Southern California by providing experienced legal representation and guidance.  We provide a free, no-obligation consultation with a skilled pedestrian accident attorney and can be reached by calling 1-866-422-7222 or completing our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Fatal Pedestrian Accident in Santa Ana Highlights Safety Issues with Particular Intersection, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 19, 2017

California Appellate Court Upholds Jury Verdict that Dangerous Condition Had Not Caused Plaintiff’s Single-Vehicle Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 8, 2017

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