Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Recently, a national news report released updates on a tragic trick-or-tricking California pedestrian accident. A young family was walking back to their condo in Long Beach when an SUV crossed onto the sidewalk and slammed into the family. Sadly, the family was just steps away from their condo when the driver struck them. Law enforcement arrested the driver at the scene of the accident, and he was arrested for driving under the influence. In addition to drunk driving charges, the man is facing gross vehicular manslaughter criminal charges. The husband died shortly after impact, his son died on Saturday, and his wife died the following morning.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in conjunction with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) collect, study, and report motor vehicle accident statistics. As the access and ease of public transportation in California increases, many more people walk as part of their daily commute. The increase in daily pedestrian traffic in combination with the prevalence of street and community events makes it even more crucial that motorists engage in safe driving.

Unfortunately, almost 20% of California accidents involve pedestrians, which is nearly 60% higher than the national average. The most recent data compilation reveals that there is an average of 238,000 fatal and non-fatal traffic injuries in California, and over 13,000 of those accidents involve severe injuries to pedestrians. Various factors impact the likelihood that a pedestrian will be involved in a traffic accident. Some factors include lighting, time of day, season, and pedestrian location. Most California pedestrian accidents occur during daylight, weekday business hours at non-intersections.

In a recent written opinion, a California appellate court discussed when evidence from an expert witness who is not on a party’s expert-witness list can be considered in a personal injury claim. According to the court’s opinion, in 2013 the plaintiff was an incarcerated in a county jail and was taken to and from court on a county bus. The plaintiff testified at trial that the bus hit a beam while parking, causing the inmate to whom the plaintiff was chained to sway, ultimately pulling the plaintiff off of his seat and onto the floor of the bus. A videotaped interview after the accident showed the plaintiff saying clearly that he was not injured in this accident, but the plaintiff asserts that shortly after the interview he began to feel pain. According to the plaintiff, this injury required he see both a doctor and a chiropractor regularly, amassing significant medical bills.

At trial, the plaintiff’s doctor testified that he believed the plaintiff’s injuries stemmed from the 2013 bus accident, and that the plaintiff required future surgery, estimated at around $90,000. The defendant county called another doctor as an expert witness to testify, but this doctor was not on their list of expert witnesses submitted to the court. Under California law, he was allowed to testify, but only in order to “impeach” the evidence of the plaintiff’s doctor. Impeachment testimony is permissible if it focuses on negating a specific fact used by another party’s witness to draw their conclusion. However, impeachment testimony cannot be simply used as pretext for offering a contrary opinion. The defendant’s added witness testified, stating that the plaintiff’s doctor had reached the wrong conclusion and misunderstood or misapplied medical science. At the end of trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff but awarding him far less damages than he sought, seeming to rely on the defendant’s expert witness’s testimony undercutting the plaintiff’s doctor.

The plaintiff appealed the verdict, in part arguing that the defendant’s expert witness’s testimony was beyond the scope of permissible impeachment and should not have been considered. The appellate court agreed, finding that the defendant’s witness, when discussing the plaintiff’s doctor testimony, did not aim to negate or deny a specific fact used by the doctor. Instead, according to the court, the defendant’s doctor offered his own, contrary opinion, which went beyond the scope of permissible impeachment. As such, the jury should not have been allowed to consider the testimony, and the court remanded the case for a new trial.

A state appellate court recently considered when an “excuse” jury instruction is appropriate in a California car accident case. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was driving on the highway when a mattress suddenly flew at her vehicle, causing her to swerve and hit the barrier. Eye-witnesses stated that they saw the mattress come from the defendant’s truck, and the plaintiff sued. California law requires that vehicles be loaded so that the materials on them stay put. The plaintiff alleged negligence per se, which is a finding of negligence based on a violation of the law.

The trial court gave a jury instruction stating that a violation of the law is excused if it is found that the defendant was using reasonable care but was still unable to obey the law. The jury found that the defendant was not negligent. However, at trial, the defendant driver stated that there was no mattress in his truck on the day in question. The jury, in reaching its decision, did not state whether it was based on a finding that the defendant’s truck was not the source of the mattress or whether the defendant had an excuse, based on the instruction in question. The plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court agreed with the plaintiff that the excuse instruction was improper and remanded the case back to the trial court. The court explained that the situation at hand did not present the special circumstances necessary to warrant an excuse instruction. There was no evidence that the defendant used reasonable care to ensure there was no mattress in the back of his truck because he relied on his coworker’s word that the truck was empty, even though it would have been relatively easy for him to check himself. Nor was there evidence that the defendant was unable to comply with the law in question, requiring items in trucks to be secured. Because there were no special circumstances, the court held that the excuse instruction was improperly given. Additionally, the court’s opinion explained that the instruction was improperly worded in that it failed to make clear that the burden to establish the excuse is on the defendant, rather than the plaintiff.

California accident victims can pursue a claim for compensation against anyone they believe to be responsible for their injuries. To successfully bring such a claim, a plaintiff must be able to establish that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of their injury. This is referred to as the element of causation.

To establish causation, a plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than not that the plaintiff’s injury was a result of the defendant’s conduct. However, causation cannot be based solely on speculation. The mere possibility that the defendant’s conduct was the cause is insufficient to prove causation; a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty was a proximate or legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Generally, the jury must decide if the plaintiff has proved causation. However, if the issue of causation involves a legal determination, the court can decide whether causation is sufficient in a motion for summary judgment.

California injury cases can be complicated and may involve multiple parties. A defendant’s negligent conduct does not need to be the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injury in order for a jury to find them liable for the injury. California law follows the “substantial factor” test in determining cause-in-fact. That means to meet the causation element, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury. If a defendant’s conduct took place at the same time as other acts, the defendant’s conduct may be a “substantial factor” if the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct. If the simultaneous negligence of two parties contributes to the plaintiff’s injury, each person’s acts will be considered the proximate cause, and the plaintiff may recover full compensation from either person, or both.

In a recent opinion, a federal appeals court was tasked with deciding whether a plaintiff whose Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) claim was not properly filed as a minor could file his claim beyond the statute of limitations. The case is a precedential decision for cases in the court’s jurisdiction, including California car accident cases.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s father died in a car crash on an Arizona highway in 2005. The plaintiff’s mother filed a claim with the federal agency over two years later, and then filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. She claimed deficiencies in the highway barrier involved in the father’s crash. The plaintiff was nine years old when his father died and sixteen when the suit was filed.

Filing a Claim Under the Federal Tort Claims Act

The Federal Tort Claims Act allows people to sue the United States government and its agencies for certain torts committed by federal employees while acting within the scope of their official duties. In an FTCA claim, a claimant must show that: (1) injury or property damages caused by a federal employee; (2) the employee was acting within the scope of his official duties; (3) the employee acted negligently or wrongfully; and (4) the act proximately caused the damages.

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A California appellate court recently considered a case in which a plaintiff claimed that the city was at fault for failing to repaint a city crosswalk. The plaintiff sued the city of Salinas, California after she was hit by a car while walking across the street. The plaintiff was in the crosswalk at the time she was hit, which had not been repainted in sixteen years and was almost completely faded. The plaintiff claimed that the condition of the crosswalk amounted to a dangerous condition.

Under a city ordinance, the city was required to maintain crosswalks at intersections with the appropriate markings. Based on the ordinance, the plaintiff asked that the jury be read instructions on the concept of negligence per se.

Negligence Per Se

Negligence per se refers to a finding of negligence based on a violation of the law. If negligence per se applies, the defendant is presumed to have breached the duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff. For example, there might be a finding of negligence per se in a California drunk driving accident.

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Earlier last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case discussing whether an employer could be held vicariously liable for the allegedly negligent acts of an employee. The court ultimately concluded that vicarious liability was appropriate, and allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed to trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was injured after being involved in a car accident. Evidently, the plaintiff was riding as a passenger in the pick-up truck that was being driven by his father. The truck was provided to the plaintiff’s father as a company car.

The plaintiff’s father was a maintenance worker for the defendant corporation, which operated several farms in the area. The plaintiff’s father reportedly worked six days a week, but was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to attend to any maintenance issues that arose at any of the defendant’s properties. The plaintiff’s father kept a toolbox in the pick-up truck, and was told by the defendant that he was expected to respond to any maintenance issue immediately. Thus, the employer allowed the plaintiff to use the pick-up truck for personal use.

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Self-driving, or semi-autonomous, cars are becoming a reality in some states. Although proponents tout the technology as safe, recent incidents have raised concerns and brought up new questions concerning liability in the event of a California car accident. One question that often arises is who is at fault in a semi-autonomous car crash if, for example, the car fails to stop? Is it the driver who failed to stop or the designer or manufacturer whose system failed to stop? These cases present complicated issues, as crashes involving self-driving cars continue to occur in California and nationwide.

Investigation Finds Tesla Model X Sped Up Before California Crash

An investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found a Tesla Model X sped up just before it crashed earlier this year in Mountain View, California, according to a news report. The semi-autonomous car crashed into a barrier on U.S. Highway 101 back in March, killing the 38-year-old driver.

The report raises questions about the cars’ ability to operate safety, as well as the driver’s role in the crash. According to the report, the car sped up from 62 miles per hour to 70.8 miles per hour in the last three seconds before the crash. The driver was using the autopilot system for almost 19 minutes before the crash. His hands were only on the steering wheel for 34 seconds of the last sixty seconds before the crash, and he had programmed the car to drive at 75 miles per hour. However, according to the NTSB, the car’s system did not recognize his hands on the steering wheel for six seconds before the crash. The NTSB report was a preliminary report and did not come to a conclusion about what caused the crash.

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In many California car accident cases, the causes of the accident are readily apparent. It may be that a drunk driver crossed over the median into oncoming traffic, causing a head-on collision. Or a truck driver tried to push his physical limits by driving more hours per day than the federal requirement allows, falling asleep behind the wheel.

Other accidents, however, present many unanswered questions that require an in-depth investigation to uncover the true facts. While a police-led investigation is a good start, often law enforcement lawyers are trying to answer different questions. For example, law enforcement is typically looking for evidence of criminal misconduct. If the investigation reveals that there was no wrongdoing, an investigation is often concluded without a determination as to what the real cause of the accident was.

Investigations in personal injury cases, however, require a deeper analysis as to why the accident occurred. Accidents can be caused by a number of factors, including negligent drivers, poorly maintained roadways, and defective vehicles. Each of these causes may result in a different party being responsible for the victim’s injuries, so it is important for an attorney to determine what caused an accident.

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Southern California has long been known for some of the worst traffic in the country. In fact, according to most studies, Los Angeles and the surrounding area ranks worst in the entire world for the amount of time spent in traffic. However, according to a recent news report, Southern California roadways are not just among the most congested; they are also among the most dangerous.

According to a local news report discussing the results of the most recent National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, about 10% of all fatal traffic accidents occur in California. What’s more, all five of the California counties with the most accidents are in Southern California:  Los Angeles County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, San Diego County, and Orange County. Los Angeles County saw approximately 800 fatal traffic accidents in 2016, which was about three times as many accidents as Riverside County, which was the second-place county with about 260 fatal accidents.

Motorists and researchers alike place most of the blame for these high numbers on speeding, which accounts for just under a third of all fatal California car accidents. Drunk driving, distracted driving, and aggressive driving also rank high among the causes of fatal traffic accidents.

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