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Truck Driver and Employer Held Partially Liable for Injury Accident Caused by Blocked View of Highway

  • Published: December 13, 2011

For the first time in California, an appellate court ruled on the question of whether a truck driver can be held liable for injuries caused to others if his or her truck is parked legally but nonetheless blocks motorists’ views of oncoming traffic. While the court’s ruling does not apply in all circumstances, the facts in Lawson v. Safeway, Inc.clearly showed that the truck driver failed to use ordinary care to prevent others from being injured, thus making him partially responsible for an accident that seriously injured a motorcycle passenger.

The 2005 accident occurred on Highway 101, near Crescent City, at a spot where the highway is a three-lane road with cross traffic coming from intersecting streets. The 65-foot Safeway tractor trailer was parked on the side of Highway 101 close to a T-shaped intersection, blocking the view of oncoming traffic for a driver attempting to cross and turn onto 101. When Shawn Kite tried to turn left onto 101 from Anchor Way, he couldn’t see around the Safeway truck. Although he carefully crept into the intersection, he couldn’t see Charles and Connie Lawson approaching on their trike motorcycle. The Lawsons collided with the left side of Kite’s pickup when he crossed in front of them, and Mrs. Lawson was thrown from the motorcycle, sustaining serious injuries.

During the original trial, a jury apportioned 35 percent fault to Safeway and its driver, 35 percent to the State of California (for negligently failing to prohibit parking in that spot), and 30 percent to the driver of the pickup (Kite). The appellate court upheld that decision.

In evaluating the case, the appellate court acknowledged that there was no prior California case similar enough to use as precedent, so it looked to see what other states have decided. In the majority of cases, courts concluded that negligence could be found even if no statute or ordinance was violated.

Central to the decisions in all of these cases was the concept of foreseeability. Although no one could foresee the particular accidents involving the particular parties involved, it was foreseeable that someone might be injured as a result of blocking drivers’ views. The court in Lawson v. Safeway, Inc. also considered other factors, including the fact that the driver had “no shortage” of safe alternatives for parking his truck.

This case illustrates an example of third-party liability. Even though neither Safeway nor its driver were involved in the accident, they created a hazard that foreseeably resulted in injury to another party. Likewise, the State of California was held partially responsible for the same reason. The potential for third-party liability is always worth discussing with an attorney if you have been injured.