Carrier Liability – Being “Legal” Isn’t Enough to Protect Yourself

Andrew Schlegel Judgments, Regulations, Transportation

The California Supreme Court recently upheld a jury verdict which found that a legally parked Safeway trailer was 35% responsible for an injury accident.  The truck, which was legally parked on the side of Highway 101, was found to have created an obstructed view for a vehicle entering into an intersection, subsequently colliding with a motorcycle and injuring its riders. In Lawson v. Safeway, the jury awarded $828,000 to the motorcyclist, finding that Safeway was 35% at fault, CalTrans 35% at fault, and the pickup truck driver only 30% at fault.  The California Court of Appeals, First Appellate District upheld the verdict, saying that the driver breached his “duty to use ordinary care to prevent others from being injured as the result of their conduct” because he should have made a sight line analysis to determine whether his truck would create an obstructed view where it was parked.

As easy as it would be to write this off as a product of California’s increasingly plaintiff friendly courts, the Appellate Court decision relied on case law from other states, as it was the first time the California Courts had ruled on the issue.  What the Appellate Court found were eight cases (3 in New York, 2 in Missouri, and 1 each in Connecticut, Maryland and Ohio) that found that being “legally parked” was not enough to protect a carrier from being liable for negligence when an accident occurs in the vicinity of the parked vehicle.  Against this, the Court found only two cases where legal parking was accepted as a defense where views were blocked at an intersection.

The lesson from this story: being legal isn’t necessarily good enough to protect yourself from being found liable by a jury when an accident occurs.  Accident liability can arise for trucking companies any time a driver fails to “use ordinary care to prevent others from being injured as the result of their conduct.”  To protect your company, make sure drivers are thinking about more than just following the law.   Encourage drivers to make their decisions based on all information they have at their disposal, including the law, weather conditions, traffic conditions, and general public safety.