California Court Upholds Finding that Defendant Not Liable for Incident on Bike Path in Santa Monica, as Plaintiff Had Not Set Forth Uncontradicted Evidence

Following a collision on a bicycle path in Santa Monica in 2012, a jury found that the defendant bicyclist had not been negligent toward the plaintiff inline skater.  The California Court of Appeal addressed whether the lower court had erred in denying the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and in denying the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial.

The plaintiff argued that the evidence showed the defendant was negligent when he tried to pass him on the path.  Since the jury had returned a verdict that the defendant was not negligent, the plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, and the entry of a partial JNOV (judgment notwithstanding the verdict).  The court had denied the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court was to determine the evidence regarding the allegation of negligence.  The parties’ testimony was the main evidence surrounding the collision. On the day of the accident, defendant had said that he believed he had ample space to pass the group of pedestrians and the inline skater, including the plaintiff. They had been traveling slowly, and he called out “on your left” several times as he approached the group.  While he had nearly cleared the group of people, he felt an impact on the back tire of his bicycle and stated that he then saw plaintiff fall.

Plaintiff contended he had been riding behind pedestrians who had merged into the path, and that he had not been wearing earphones but had felt an impact, felt his arm hit the handlebars of a bicycle. His testimony was different at trial than it had been in his deposition regarding his arm hitting the bicycle handlebars, and he had conflicting testimony concerning whether he intended to pass the pedestrians. At trial, plaintiff had been asked if moving his left foot to the side caused the collision. Plaintiff testified that it was not possible he had moved to the left and denied it was possible his left foot passed the bicycle path centerline.

The standard for reviewing a failure of proof at trial is whether the evidence compelled a finding in favor of the appellant.  The question is whether the evidence was uncontradicted and unimpeached, and leaves no room for judicial determination that it was insufficient to support a finding.  Here, the court stated, the evidence did not compel finding in favor of plaintiff as a matter of law.  A reasonable jury could have found that defendant exercised due care when he passed plaintiff, but that plaintiff had extended his foot and contacted defendant’s bicycle.  According to the appellate court, the evidence was not uncontradicted and unimpeached, nor did it have character and weight that left no room for a judicial determination that it was insufficient to support a finding.  Plaintiff had not shown the court erred when it denied his motion for a partial JNOV.

Next, the court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial, as the weight of evidence was against the jury’s finding that defendant had not been negligent.  The rule set forth in California Code of Civil Procedure 657 provides that a new trial will not be granted unless the evidence shows that the court or jury clearly should have reached a different decision, or verdict.  A trial court is provided broad discretion, and a denial of a ruling on a new trial motion will be reversed only when there is an abuse of discretion. In other words, the court must have made a decision that exceeded the bounds of reason, resulting in a miscarriage of justice.

The lower court had stated they were the trier of fact and not to be bound by the jury’s resolution.  The lower court had stated that the case was “not even a close call” as the evidence had not established that defendant had been negligent as a matter of law.  On appeal, the court stated there had been a substantial conflict in the evidence, and the evidence had not compelled a conclusion that the motion for a new trial should have been granted.  It was not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to deny the motion for a new trial.

The personal injury attorneys at Sharifi Law help injured individuals pursue compensation from at-fault parties following an accident.  If you or someone close to you has been hurt by the carelessness of another, our dedicated legal team will advocate on your behalf.  To consult with a skilled attorney today, call our office at 1-866-422-7222.

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