Jim Porter: Parked truck causes accident?
TRUCKEE, Calif. andamp;#8212; If you are a truck driver, you should be concerned about Lawson v. Safeway, a new case out of Del Norte County. A large tractor trailer parked totally legally, was found by a jury to have caused a serious accident. I have to think about that.Parked Safeway TruckOn a clear afternoon in July 2005, Safeway truck driver Ken Wilburn needed a break, so he parked his tractor trailer on the side of Highway 101 in front of the Anchor Beach Inn at the intersection of 101 and Anchor Way near Crescent City. Wilburn had been parking there for years.Shawn Kite was driving his pickup truck east on Anchor Way. He wanted to make a left-hand turn onto 101 going north which required crossing 101andamp;#8217;s southbound lane. He pulled up to the stop sign, crept forward past the stop sign trying to see around the 65-foot-long Safeway tractor trailer, while looking back to the right to check for traffic coming north on 101.TrikeAlong came Charles Lawson on a trike motorcycle with his wife, Connie, in the back seat, heading south on 101 at 35 to 40 miles per hour andamp;#8212; within the speed limit. Approximately 58 feet per second.Kite said he could not see the Lawsonsandamp;#8217; motorcycle approaching until his pickup was about half-way out into the southbound 101 lane, at which point he accelerated trying to avoid the Lawsons, but they collided with his pickup and Mrs. Lawson was thrown from the motorcycle and seriously injured. Sue EveryoneThe Lawsons sued Kite, Caltrans, Safeway and its driver Wilburn. The jury awarded substantial damages to the Lawsons, apportioning 35 percent fault to Safeway and Wilburn, 35 percent to the state of California, and 30 percent to Kite, the driver of the pickup.Safeway and Wilburn appealed; interestingly, Caltrans did not.Under California law, each of these defendants andamp;#8212; only partially at fault andamp;#8212; is responsible to pay not only for their own percentage but the entire judgment as to economic damages; however, they may seek reimbursement from the other defendants based upon their percentage of fault. How Can That Be?Safeway argued it had done nothing wrong and owed no duty of care to the Lawsons because the truck was parked legally.The Court of Appeal noted that no California cases had found a trucking company responsible for injuries because a legally parked truck had blocked an intersection view. Courts in six states have found that in rare circumstances a blocking truck may contribute to an accident, while two states say that is legally impossible, even if the view at an intersection is blocked. Impaired ViewThe Court of Appeal noted at least twice in its opinion that andamp;#8220;Drivers should ordinarily have no exposure to liability if they are legally parked, Parked vehicles often obstruct views in ways that increase the risk of nearby collisions and liability would be inappropriate in the great majority of such situations.andamp;#8221; Here comes the But.andamp;#8220;But this case is different and involves a situation where the risk of foreseeable harm was, in our view, unreasonable.andamp;#8221; The juryandamp;#8217;s apportioned judgment is upheld: Kite, Safeway and its driver, and Caltrans share liability. I am not sure why Caltrans was found partially responsible.Personal TakeWhat bothers me about this case is that now every time someone is injured at an intersection (or non-intersection) when someoneandamp;#8217;s view is partially blocked by a large truck, the door is open to a lawsuit by an injured party trying to avoid responsibility by pointing the finger at the view-impairing truck. Although, this court did go out of its way to write, andamp;#8220;in the vast majority of cases, a view-impairing truck does not create any exposure to liability.andamp;#8221; Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firmandamp;#8217;s website http://www.portersimon.com.
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