You may assume that if another driver’s actions cause a car accident, they might automatically be held liable for the resulting injuries. But as the recent California appellate court case of Minnegren v. Nozar shows, jurors are free to not hold a driver liable as long as the defendant at least exercised some care and therefore might have acted reasonably – even if his or her actions resulted in a crash.
According to court records, the defendant was driving his Range Rover to his college campus for a class and was having trouble finding a parking spot. His class started at 9:30 a.m. Sometime between 9:20 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., he exited the parking lot and drove down another street, looking for parking. As he neared an intersection traveling south, he spotted a parking space on the opposite side of the stop sign. At the same time, the plaintiff was on a cross street traveling east in a small car. The plaintiff would have had the right-of-way. As the defendant proceeded into the intersection, the plaintiff struck him.
The plaintiff filed a car accident lawsuit against the defendant for negligence.
At trial, two witnesses gave testimony, although at least one was inconsistent.
One witness at first said she saw a car waiting at the stop sign (which would have been the defendant), but then she later said she watched as it was “clear he wasn’t going to stop.” After the collision, that witness overheard the defendant repeatedly tell the plaintiff he was sorry. The witness told an officer on scene that the defendant’s driving was “very scary” because he rushed through the intersection without stopping at the stop sign.
Another witness testified he was at a nearby cafe and watched as the defendant “rolled fast” through the stop sign and then proceeded quickly – and loudly – into the intersection. When the truck was about 75 percent through the intersection, that’s when the smaller vehicle struck.
The investigating officer testified the defendant told her at the scene he’d stopped at the stop sign and hadn’t seen any vehicles coming. The officer cited the defendant as the at-fault party and reported his speed had been a factor in the crash.
The defendant testified he stopped at the stop sign and looked both ways, and he saw the plaintiff coming and thought he had enough time to proceed through the intersection. He agreed the plaintiff had the right-of-way and that he “made a bad judgment,” and he caused the collision but “not intentionally.” Of course, as our Winston-Salem car accident lawyers know, few defendants actually intend to cause harm to others, but that is a result of a failure to use reasonable care.
“I tried my best to make a judgment call,” the defendant testified. “Unfortunately, it was… wrong.”
But the defendant denied negligence, insisting that while he’d “made a mistake,” he had stopped and looked both ways, and therefore he had used appropriate care.
Jurors issued a verdict in favor of the defendant.
The plaintiff filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied. She sought a new trial, which was also denied. She then filed an appeal. She asserted the judgment should be reversed because it wasn’t supported by substantial evidence.
The appellate court affirmed. Even though the defendant admitted that he pulled out in front of her when it wasn’t safe to do so and that she had the right of way, and he was supposed to yield to her, the court noted these legal admissions don’t cancel evidence that supported the judgment. In essence, the plaintiff was arguing that the defendant’s admissions took the issue of negligence out of the hands of the jury, something the appellate court declined to do.
The court noted that whether the defendant believed and admitted later that he caused the crash by pulling into the intersection when it wasn’t safe doesn’t mean that he necessarily breached his duty of care or that jurors were not able to return a verdict in his favor, the court held. The evidence suggested that he did use some measure of care, but it was up to the jury to determine if he used “due care.” In this case, they found he did, and the court declined to strip them of that finding.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Minnegren v. Nozar, Oct. 24, 2016, California Court of Appeals, Second Appellate District, Division Two
More Blog Entries:
Report: Feds Auctioning Cars With Open Recalls, Oct. 18, 2016, Winston-Salem Car Accident Lawyer Blog