California Appeals Court Upholds Damages for Plaintiff In Pedestrian/Vehicle Collision Case

A pedestrian sued a driver for negligence following a collision between them in which the pedestrian was injured. Before trial, the parties stipulated that the driver was negligent. Therefore, the only issue for the jury to decide was damages. The jury found that the driver’s negligence was a substantial factor in the harm suffered by the pedestrian and returned a verdict of $16,800. After costs and fees, the trial court entered a net judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of $876.85.On appeal, the plaintiff challenged an in limine ruling that excluded evidence. She sought a reversal of the exclusionary ruling and a retrial on the issue of emotional harm and damages. The California Court of Appeal for the Second District disagreed and affirmed.The plaintiff first argued on appeal that the trial court erred by excluding evidence of the defendant’s failure to stop, render aid, and identify herself in violation of sections 20001 and 20003 of the Vehicle Code. Disagreeing, the appeals court first explained that the statutory requirement that drivers of cars involved in crashes resulting in injuries or death must stop and render aid was enacted to protect people injured in an accident and was designed to prohibit drivers from leaving people in distress and danger. These acts are required by all drivers of vehicles involved in accidents causing injuries or death, whether or not they are responsible.

In moving to exclude evidence of her failure to stop without rendering aid, the defendant argued that by admitting her liability for the accident, her liability was not at issue. She also argued that since the pedestrian was able to continue walking across the intersection, she did not suffer any aggravated injury as a result of the alleged statutory violation. The defendant argued that under these circumstances, evidence of her failure to stop was unduly prejudicial and irrelevant.

The plaintiff argued that if a defendant’s vehicle hits a pedestrian, and the defendant leaves without rendering aid in a way that aggravates the pedestrian’s injuries, the pedestrian is entitled to have the jury decide whether the abandonment resulted in emotional harm. The trial court did not adopt the plaintiff’s legal theory and found the evidence that the defendant had left the scene without rendering aid to be more prejudicial than probative, pursuant to Evidence Code 352. The trial court also found the evidence might be potentially inflammatory.

The appeals court found the trial court’s ruling was not erroneous. There was no evidence that since the defendant left the area, the plaintiff’s physical injuries were aggravated. And the plaintiff provided no legal authority that her emotional pain was the type of injury that sections 20001 and 20003 were enacted to remedy. She had the burden to prove that the emotional distress she suffered constituted a harm that the statutes were meant to address. Since she did not adequately address this issue, there was no reason to conclude she was prejudiced by the exclusion of evidence that the defendant left the scene.

Finally, the plaintiff argued that by granting the motion in limine, the trial court excluded the essence of the statutory claim and the emotional damages suffered by the plaintiff.

The appeals court explained that the allegation of general negligence was sufficient to give rise to civil liability for any further injury proximately caused by the defendant’s failure to stop and provide aid. Accordingly, the in limine ruling did not dispose of an entire cause of action, and the rule cited by the plaintiff was inapplicable. She could have made an offer of proof that she suffered a further injury due to lack of prompt medical care, but she did not make a showing to this effect.

For these reasons, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

The pedestrian accident lawyers at Neumann Law Group represent victims throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.

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