Before I head to the Modesto or Stockton office, I drop off my daughters at school. There is always lots of traffic, but somehow through the chaos, I am able to get them off to school unscathed. Students in southern California weren’t so lucky when 100 year old California driver, Preston Carter backed his blue Cadillac onto the sidewalk injuring children in front of Main Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles.

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This blog entry is not going to take a position on whether elderly drivers should or should not be allowed to drive. I wanted to write about the legal issues that rise out of this type of car accident.

NEGLIGENCE
The law does not require that older persons refrain from driving. What is required though is that each driver exercise care when operating a motor vehicle. In order for the people to recover for damages sustained by this 100 year old driver, they have to prove the driver acted with negligence when the car ran out of control injuring them. It’s not a question of whether the person is old who is behind the wheel, it is a question of whether the driver acted negligently.

As explained to readers in previous blog posts negligence is simply the failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would in the same situation. In other words, did the driver proceed the same way other drivers would under the same set of facts? Readers are likely to remember that there are five elements to negligence (1) Duty (2) Breach of Duty (3) Cause in Fact (4) Proximate Cause (5) Harm or Damages.

Assuming Mr. Carter failed to stop as he backed he car onto the sidewalk where pedestrians were located, the question becomes, would a ordinary driver act the same way that Mr. Carter acted under those circumstances? The answer is a resounding no. An ordinary driver in those same circumstances would have not continued to back his car into pedestrians, plain and simple. Mr. Carter owed a duty of care while operating his vehicle and he did not exercise care. In other words he breached the duty he owed the community. 11 people where injured, including children that would not have been caused unless they were ran into by the car driving by Mr. Carter. Lastly, those who were hit were absolutely injured and many were put into the hospital. Therefore the argument can be made that Mr. Carter acted with negligence and could be held liable for such.

PRODUCTS LIABILITY
Mr. Carter is claiming that his brakes in his car had failed. As reported in the Huffington Post, Mr. Carter told KCAL, “My brakes failed. It was out of control.” For the sake of argument assume that Mr. Carter is correct and his brakes did fail. Under that theory the people injured could potentially sue the car manufacturer or brake manufacture if the accident was caused by some manufacturing defect. An injured person is likely to see a greater recovery if successful by suing a big company because companies have much more money than Mr. Carter would have under his insurance company. That is an assumption but is true for most people driving today. A failure of brakes under this scenario is very unlikely. For the sake of this discussion we will revisit the principals of product liability.

If the readers remember from my earlier posts I have explained that under the California Supreme Court ruling in Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963) 59 Cal. 2d 57, a plaintiff alleging manufacturing defect only has to show that there is a product that was manufactured and that product failed causing injury. This is known as “strict liability”, meaning that a manufacturer is liable for any damages cause by the failure of their product even if the manufacturer took extraordinary care in producing the product.
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Summertime is upon us and in Modesto, California many families bring their boats to the lake, reservoir or the Delta. But recently there have been some horrific accidents related to boating in California.

RECENT MAJOR CALIFORNIA ACCIDENTS
The first accident that comes to mind is in San Francisco, where a crew on a boat that was in a yacht race in the San Francisco Bay was lost at sea. Only 3 of the 8 persons on that boat made it to safety. This yacht race recently resumed. As reported in the San Francisco Examiner “Bay Area yacht racing to resume a month after fatal Farallon Islands accident”.

The next accident is eerily similar, occurring soon after the first, but in Southern California. That accident involved yacht that was in a race from Newport to Ensenada. Although that death is the first in that race’s history, it is certainly not the only death in boating recently.

CAUSE OF ACCIDENTS
The issue in both of those boating accidents is the cause of the accident. US Sailing is working with the U.S. Coast Guard to figure out what went wrong during these boating accidents. Whether the accidents were caused by operator error (negligence), by a poorly built boat (product liability) or by mother nature, the boating community is demanding answers.

If this blogger had to guess, the cause would be mother nature combined with some operator mistakes. But the main cause would be the large waves that sometimes envelope boats in the ocean. But this blog’s entry’s purpose is to discuss how boating accidents apply to the average person.

STATISTICS
Boating deaths shot up by 12.8 percent in 2011. Boat deaths are at the highest level since 1998, according the a report released by the U.S. Coast Guard. (US Coast Guard Report) According to that same report, in 2011, the Coast Guard counted 4588 accidents that involved 758 deaths, 3081 injuries and approximately $52 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. The most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (47%), personal watercraft (19%), and cabin motorboats (14%). That means that by far the majority of accidents involve the boats that everyday people bring out to the lake and reservoir every summer.

SAFETY
Safety is very important when boating. Although the majority of boating accidents are caused by a boating operators negligence, death from that accident is usually because the victim of the accident was not wearing a life jacket. Although this blog focuses on the legal principals involved with boating, it is important to remember to always wear a life jacket when on the water.

 

 
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The first step in having self driving cars in California has passed a hurdle by being approved by the the Senate. California Senate Bill 1298, introduced by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). The bill authorizes testing of the self-driving vehicle. The industry leader of the self-driving technology is none other than Google. In case you have been living in a cave without internet access, Google is a technology company based in Mountain View, California. The self-driving car is a departure from Google’s focus, but shows they definitely have their eye towards the future.

Although self-driving Google cars are very exciting, our Modesto car accident law offices are more concerned about the liability aspects of such a car. This article focuses on the legal issues of this technology. Who is liable for an accident involving a self driving car?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdgQpa1pUUE

A jury awards Seven Schmidt $ 1.68 million dollars for the negligence of a power company employee. Although this award is from out of state, as a Modesto auto accident attorney, I want to remind readers of the importance of hiring an competent personal injury attorney when you are injured by the negligence of others. In addition, suing the government and their negligent employees is sometimes overwhelming if you don’t have the right lawyer. The most common example of government employee negligence is where that employee is the cause of a car accident.

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Vicarious Liability
Vicarious liability makes one person liable for another persons actions. There are many times when this type liability applies. One common example is the employer-employee situation. In terms of the law this is called the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, employers are liable for their employee’s wrongdoing and their torts when the employee is acting “within the scope of employment” To prove that the employee was acting withing the scope of their employment the moving party must establish (1) the conduct occurred within the time and space limits of their employment (2) the employee must have been serving the needs of the employer and (3) the act must have been for what the employer was hired to do.

Government Employees
The government is not liable for their employees actions under the common law theory of respondeat superior, but are liable because the government has passed legislation that allows a person to sue them. In order to sue the government or one of their employees you have to comply with the California Government Tort Claims Act (Government Code § 814, et seq.) or the Federal Tort Claims Act. There are very strict time limits in which to bring a lawsuit under these provisions. For example to sue a Stanislaus County, Modesto employee or any government employee, there must first be a claim made with the local government. In California, that claim must be made with the local governmental entity within 6 months of the harm. There is no flexibility with this rule. If it is not adhered to, then there cannot be a lawsuit filed in court. The local governmental entity has 45 days to accept or deny the claim. Once the claim is denied you have 6 months to file suit in a California court.

California Tort Claims Act & Federal Tort Claims Act
Under the California Tort Claims Act, a public employee is liable for injury caused by his act or omission to the same extent as a private person. (Cal.Gov. Code, § 820(a).) There are some exceptions, but that is for another discussion. The point here is that if the government employee could have been sued in a private capacity, then they can be sued for their negligence while working on behalf of the government. If found liable, then the government would be required to pay the verdict amount. (pending any appeals)
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Our, Modesto, California car accident law firm is frequently asked whether an uninsured motorist can sue the at fault driver in California. The answer is yes and no. If you are an uninsured driver in California you CANNOT sue for pain and suffering. Even when it is not your fault, you are barred from getting money for pain and suffering if you are uninsured while driving. It doesn’t matter if you are driving in Modesto, Sacramento, the Bay Area or anywhere in California, no insurance = no pain and suffering recovery. Technically the ban to these damages extends to pain and suffering, loss of life, emotional stress and other non-economic damages. Those drivers without insurance can still sue for lost wages and medical bills but not pain and suffering. PASSENGERS can still collect money for pain and suffering.

Pain and suffering damages are important. Injury from a car accident can be as little as a sore neck to paralysis or death. How much is the pain and suffering from a broken neck worth, may you ask? Well, if you were the driver of a car and you were uninsured, then zero according to California law. The reason you cannot collect non economic damages as an uninsured motorist is because in 1996 California voters passed Proposition 213 which was aimed at making more California drivers get insurance. This proposition which bars uninsured motorist from collecting non-economic was codified in California Civil Code § 3333.4(a)(2).

Not only have appellate courts continued to uphold this provision in the law and deny people from seeking non-economic damages, an appellate court recently extending denial of non-economic damages further. In Chude v. Jack in the Box, Inc. (2010) 185 Cal. App. 4th 37, is illustrative of this extension. In that case Teckla Chude suffered major burns on her body because of a scolding hot coffee from a coffee purchased in the Jack in the Box drive through had spilled from the cup from the unsecured lid into the seat of her pants.

The question is not whether Jack in the Box was negligent, but whether Chude could seek damages for pain and suffering. Chude was uninsured as she went through the drive through at Jack in the Box and was subsequently burned. This trial court granted Jack in the Box’s motion for summary adjudication on Chude’s non-economic damages claim. The Second District Court of Appeals in this above case upheld the ruling that non-economic damages are not allowed where the driver of the car is uninsured, even where there is no car accident.

The good news is that about 85 percent of motorists carry insurance. That means if you were in an auto accident and you were not at fault, then you can have your lost wages paid to you, your hospital bills paid and receive money for pain and suffering.
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