Driving in California can be exhilarating, refreshing, relaxing or awe-inspiring. It can also be downright terrifying at times, with a wide array of circumstances that can lead to an injury accident. Many accidents will be common scenarios like rear-end crashes or left-turn collisions. Others, though, will be the result of very odd facts. Being injured in an unusual accident may pose some unique challenges but, other times, it may open up some unique opportunities. Either way, it pays to have an experienced San Mateo personal injury attorney representing you, who will know how to take your specific situation and guide you to the best opportunity available for success.
M. B.-S. was one of those unlucky drivers injured in a freak way. She was reportedly traveling along a freeway in Los Angeles County when she encountered a most unlikely road hazard – a flying mattress. The driver swerved to avoid the mattress but lost control and crashed into a barrier as a result. Eventually, with the help of information from witnesses, police located the truck whose trailer had allegedly pitched the item.
The injured woman sued both the driver and his employer for negligence. In her case, the woman’s legal team was able to advance a specific kind of negligence argument: negligence per se.
What is ‘negligence per se’ and how can it help an injured person?
Negligence per se is a legal concept that says that if you, as the plaintiff in a negligence case, have proof that the defendant violated a particular law or local ordinance, then that violation allows the court to presume that the defendant (or defendants) were negligent. In M. B-S.’s case, she asserted that the driver violated Section 23114 of California’s Vehicle Code, which requires drivers to load and secure all cargo in such a way that the contents being hauled stay put and do not eject from the vehicle.
In any injury case, but especially one that involves unique facts and/or a unique legal claim, getting the right instructions in front of the jury can be the difference between success and failure. In this woman’s case, the judge instructed the jury on negligence per se. The judge also, however, gave the jury instructions about the legal concept of excuse. Specifically, the judge told the jury that a “violation of a law is excused if the following is true: that despite using reasonable care, a person was not able to obey the law.”
The jury ruled for the defense, but the appeals court awarded the injured woman a new trial. The reason was the faulty jury instructions, which hampered the woman’s ability to get a fair verdict. The judge gave the jury instructions about the legal concept of “excuse.” However, in order for a defendant to be entitled to a jury instruction on excuse, the defendant has to provide evidence that he used reasonable care but was still unable to comply with the law.
In this case, the defense only had proof that the driver asked a co-worker to check the trailer and the co-worker stated that the trailer was empty. The appeals court stated that this was insufficient because it did not show that the driver used reasonable care and it clearly did not show that the driver was somehow unable to comply with California’s secure-the-cargo law.
So, the defendant got the benefit of a jury instruction that never should have been read to the jury. Because that may have been the trigger for the jury’s defense verdict, the injured driver was entitled to a new trial.
If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, no matter how common or unusual the cause of that crash was, you may be entitled to obtain compensation from those at fault in causing the wreck. Reach out to the diligent San Mateo personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos for the help you need. Our attorneys have been providing knowledgeable representation and zealous advocacy for injured people for many years. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.