Articles Posted in Car Accident

Most automobile accident cases are based on negligence.  To succeed in a negligence claim, the plaintiff must show that he or she would not have been injured “but for” the defendant’s negligence.  In some cases, there are multiple causes of an accident, and fault and liability may be apportioned among several defendants.

In a recent case, a Washington appeals court considered whether the trial court had erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant, based on the plaintiff’s failure to establish causation.  The plaintiff alleged he was injured in an accident with an intoxicated driver at an intersection near a church. The plaintiff sued the church for negligence, claiming that a tree the church owned obscured the stop sign the driver had run. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the church.  The plaintiff appealed.

The plaintiff was crossing the intersection with the right of way when his moped was hit by a car.  The other driver told police he had not stopped at the stop sign.  He ultimately pled guilty to vehicular assault.

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A vehicle owner may be liable for the negligence of a driver if the driver was acting as the owner’s agent, and the owner controlled or had the right to control details of the physical movement of the agent.  Both parties must consent to the principal-agent relationship.

A Washington appeals court recently considered whether an owner was vicariously liable for the negligence of a driver who had taken the vehicle without permission in an unpublished case.  The driver was returning the vehicle to the owner at the time of the collision.

The driver of the vehicle was the adult son of the owners.  He did not live with his parents at the time of the collision, but he would sometimes visit and spend the night.  According to the court’s opinion, the parents had made it clear to the son that he was not allowed to use the vehicle.  He took the vehicle on May 23 or 24, 2014, while they were gone.

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The right-of-way can be an important issue in automobile accident cases.  It can be difficult for a plaintiff who fails to yield the right-of-way to recover compensation from the other driver.  A Washington appeals court recently reviewed a case in which the plaintiff was hit by an oncoming vehicle as the plaintiff attempted to turn left in Colburn v. Trees.

The accident occurred when the plaintiff, traveling north, turned left at an intersection and was struck by the defendant, who was going south.  There were no turn lanes at the intersection.  The defendant approached in the left lane, but he moved to the right lane after seeing a bus preparing for a left turn in the left lane.  The bus partially obstructed each driver’s view.  Each entered the intersection on a green light.  The defendant continued south, while the plaintiff crossed the southbound lanes to turn left.  The defendant tried to swerve but still struck the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The plaintiff sued the defendant, and the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defense.  The plaintiff appealed.

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In a recent personal injury case, the Court of Appeals of Washington decided issues involving parental immunity and allocation of fault in a negligence claim. In Smelser v. Paul (Wash. Ct. App. Apr. 4, 2016), the defendant was visiting a friend with two young sons who were playing in the yard. As the defendant was leaving the driveway, she backed up her truck before turning to go forward. As she started forward, she hit one of the boys with her truck, causing him serious injuries.

The plaintiffs brought a negligence lawsuit against the defendant for the injuries of the boy she hit, as well as for emotional harm to his brother. The defendant responded with an affirmative defense that the father was also negligent in causing the alleged injuries. The trial court subsequently granted the defendant’s motion to have the fault allocated against all the plaintiffs who caused the injuries, including the boys’ father. After a trial, the jury found that the negligence of both the defendant and the father equally caused the boy’s physical injuries, but neither negligently caused his brother’s emotional harm. On appeal, the father contended that he was entitled to parental immunity, and he argued that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to allocate fault.

Washington’s tort reform statute provides for proportionate liability, which requires the fact-finder to allocate the percentage of fault attributable to multiple parties responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries. Specifically, RCW 4.22.070 lists the parties whose fault shall be determined, including parties immune from liability to the claimant, with an exception for those with immunity pursuant to the worker’s compensation act.

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The Washington Supreme Court recently decided an appeal involving a car accident in the case of Wuthrich v. King Cty. (Jan. 28, 2016). The plaintiff was riding a motorcycle when another motorist pulled out in front of him at an intersection. The plaintiff brought an action against the County, alleging that it was liable for his injuries because overgrown blackberry bushes obstructed the motorist’s view of traffic at the intersection. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the County, and the plaintiff appealed.

In order to recover on a common law claim of negligence, a plaintiff must establish:  (1) the existence of a duty to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) a resulting injury, and (4) the breach was the proximate cause of the injury. In Washington, a municipality has a duty to maintain its roadways in a reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel. This duty is not confined to the asphalt. If a wall of roadside vegetation makes the roadway unsafe by blocking a driver’s view of oncoming traffic at an intersection, the municipality has a duty to take reasonable steps to address it.

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In a recently published decision, the Washington Court of Appeals reviewed a case involving a plaintiff’s personal injury claim and the effect of his failure to amend his Chapter 13 bankruptcy schedules to include the claim. In Arp v. Riley (Wash. Ct. App. Dec. 28, 2015), the superior court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment against the plaintiff on the basis of judicial estoppel. On appeal, the Washington court ultimately reversed and remanded that decision, allowing the plaintiff to proceed with his claim.

The Arp plaintiff had filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in 2008. After he paid off his Chapter 13 debt, the bankruptcy court closed his case in 2012. In October 2010, however, the plaintiff sustained serious injuries when an SUV rear-ended his stopped car. He suffered physical injuries as well as mental and emotional problems, including periodic memory loss. The plaintiff filed a personal injury action against the driver and the company for which the driver was working at the time. The defendants subsequently moved for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiff was barred from bringing his claim by judicial estoppel, since he did not report the claim to the bankruptcy trustee, and that he lacked standing. The trial court agreed, finding that the plaintiff’s personal injury claim is considered an asset of the bankruptcy estate, and the plaintiff had a duty to disclose the claim as such in his bankruptcy action.

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In a newly issued opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals discussed the issue of jury awards in personal injury claims and under what circumstances they may be overturned or altered. In Nelson v. Erickson, the plaintiff brought a negligence claim against a driver who rear-ended him. The case was initially transferred to mandatory arbitration pursuant to Chapter 7.06 RCW. The arbitrator awarded the plaintiff medical damages, out-of-pocket expenses, general damages for pain and suffering, and attorney’s fees and costs. The defendant then requested a Mandatory Arbitration Rule trial de novo, and a jury trial was held.

Before the trial, the defendant admitted liability for the car accident, and the parties stipulated that the plaintiff incurred $9,361 in medical expenses. During the three-day trial, the plaintiff put forth evidence of the medical treatments and expenses he had incurred and would continue to require as a result of the chronic pain suffered from the accident. The jury returned a verdict awarding the stipulated medical expenses, past medical expenses, and past non-economic damages, as well as future medical expenses to treat his chronic pain, but it failed to award the plaintiff any future damages for pain and suffering.

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