A California appellate court recently decided a case where the plaintiffs requested a negligence per se instruction after a driver crashed into the defendant who had stopped to the side of the highway. The semi-truck was parked in a zone between the highway and the exit ramp, known as the gore point, when the driver drove his car into the back of a truck. The driver and his wife sued the truck driver and his employer.
At trial, the court instructed the jury that it could find the defendant negligent per se for parking in the gore point under section 21718 of California’s Vehicle Code. It also instructed the jury that it could find the plaintiff negligent per se for driving into the gore point under section 21651 of the Vehicle Code. However, the court declined to instruct the jury, as the plaintiffs requested, that the defendant could be found negligent per se for driving into the gore point to park his vehicle under section 21651. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury decided that the defendant was not negligent for parking in the gore point, and the court entered judgment for the defendant.
The plaintiffs argued that the jury’s verdict should be reversed because the court should have given the requested instruction on negligence per se. The plaintiffs contended that the defendant could have and should have stopped on the shoulder rather than in the gore point, if he needed to stop. The plaintiffs’ attorney argued that the defendant was 85 percent at fault for the accident.
The negligence per se doctrine states that negligence is presumed if a plaintiff establishes: 1) the defendant violated a statute, regulation, or ordinance; 2) the violation proximately caused injury or death to a person or to property; 3) the injury was the type of injury that the statute, regulation, or ordinance was intended to prevent; and 4) the person harmed was a person who was meant to be protected by the statute, regulation, or ordinance. If a party requests a negligence per se instruction, that party has the burden to prove that each of the elements is met.
The appeals court decided that the trial court was correct in declining to give the instruction. It explained that the defendant’s act of driving into the gore point in violation of section 21651 was not a proximate cause of the crash. The defendant drove into the gore point at least five minutes before the plaintiff drove into the gore point. Therefore, the driver’s act of parking in the gore point may have distracted the plaintiff, but the defendant’s act of driving into the gore point did not cause the crash itself. The defendant’s fault in being present in the gore point was already addressed by the instruction relating to the defendant parking in the gore point. As a result, the court upheld the jury’s verdict.
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