eggshell plaintiff rule CaliforniaA California woman was awarded more than $2.8 million by a jury as compensation for past and future damages for injuries she suffered in a car accident. The verdict appears to rely on a legal doctrine known as the “eggshell plaintiff rule.” Although generations of budding attorneys have learned about the rule in law school, its significance in personal injury cases is oftentimes lost to anyone who has not been subjected to a professor’s lecture about it in a first-year torts class.  It is still a useful and practical argument for party’s who have pre-existing medical conditions who suffer emotional or physical harm due to negligence.  Such was the case here.

An admission of liability and a concession by the defense

The defendant in the Sacramento case admitted that she was at fault in causing the car accident in which her vehicle hit the passenger side of a car driven by the 26-year-old plaintiff. Both sides in the case agreed that the speed of the defendant’s car was no more than 15 mph when it struck the plaintiff’s vehicle.

In addition to conceding liability for causing the accident, the defendant agreed that the victim suffered an injury to her knees. An agreement by the parties on the amount of compensation payable to the plaintiff would appear to have been the likely result of this case, but plaintiff claimed her injuries included the following:

• Bruises to the left knee and both shins
• Pain in the neck and lower back
• A herniated disc requiring surgery
• Emotional disturbances including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and abnormal brain function

Plaintiff’s claims that all the physical and emotional injuries she suffered were related to the collision with the defendant’s car were challenged by the defendant. The defense produced experts linking the pain, disability and emotional disturbances experienced by the plaintiff to conditions that existed prior to the accident and others that were unrelated to the collision. One defense expert went so far as to state in his testimony that plaintiff’s emotional complaints were caused by a mental illness that existed prior to the car accident.

Plaintiff introduces the eggshell plaintiff rule into the case

One of the doctors who testified on behalf of the plaintiff characterized her as having an “abnormal brain” prior to the accident. This might at first appear to support the defendant’s claim that plaintiff’s emotional disturbances were preexisting and unrelated to the accident, but the expert’s reference to the eggshell plaintiff rule during his testimony appears to have tipped the case in favor of the victim.

The expert’s recommendation that plaintiff receive up to five years of treatment and other services for her emotional issues and testimony from other doctors about the victim’s long-term physical disability and the need for pain management treatment appears to have been favorably received by the jurors. The award for future medical treatment and lost earnings was $1,332,225.

The hypothetical eggshell plaintiff

Eggshell plaintiffs are individuals with preexisting medical or psychological conditions that make them susceptible to suffering injuries far worse than would be suffered by an otherwise normal person under similar circumstances. Law school professors use a hypothetical victim with a skull that is as thin as an eggshell to teach future attorneys the legal principle that defendants take their victims as they find them. In other words, a negligent defendant, such as the Sacramento driver, is liable for the injuries suffered by a victim even though someone without a preexisting emotional and medical condition might not have been as seriously injured.

California follows the eggshell plaintiff rule, and judges in cases, such as the one in Sacramento, instruct jurors to award damages to a victim even if the evidence shows that someone without a preexisting condition might not have been suffered the same injuries. The fact that the plaintiff was more susceptible to emotional disturbances due to her abnormal brain function did not relieve the defendant from responsibility once defendant admitted to being liable for causing the accident.

Consulting with an attorney might help

Someone injured as a result of the negligence of another party might benefit from consulting with a personal injury attorney. Legal principles, such as the eggshell plaintiff rule, can make it difficult for an accident victim to fully understand his or her compensation rights. The legal advice and guidance of an attorney might help by addressing a victim’s questions and concerns.

Lowes Hardware, Accidents, Injury, Attorney, California

Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse exterior. Lowe’s is an American chain of retail home improvement stores in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

As a Lowes hardware accident attorney in California, I know that Lowes Companies, Inc. is big business in the Golden State. The hardware, appliance and home improvement store operator has 1,140 stores in the United States, 40 stores in Canada and another 10 in Mexico. The company has plans to open another 150 stores in Australia under a different name. Lowes is number 50 on the Fortune 500 list, and only Home Depot sells more hardware, appliance and home improvement products than Lowes.

Lowes operates 111 stores in California. Only Texas and Florida have more. As a majority shareholder, the company also operates more than 70 neighborhood hardware and backyard stores known as Orchard Supply Hardware that it acquired in 2013. Nearly all of those stores are in California too.

Whether you own a single hardware and home improvement store in a small town or over 1,000 of them that are scattered across the country, it’s nearly inevitable that accidents are going to happen. These stores are packed with merchandise and machinery, and the store owners bear certain risks for which they can be held responsible. Personal injury attorneys are instrumental in keeping hardware and home improvement store owners alert and attentive to preventing accidents and compelling them to pay when accidents and injuries indeed do occur.

Common retail accident claims
Although other types of personal injury claims might arise from conditions on or about the property of a retailer like Lowes, common claims consist of:

  • Falling merchandise
  • Slip-and-falls and trip-and-falls
  • Injuries from defective products

Falling merchandise
There are no statutes or regulations governing how Lowes might stack and display merchandise. It might be stacked up to 15 feet high, and it’s usually left unsecured without any devices that might restrain it from falling onto customers. Merchandise can be caused to fall by:

  • Generally unstable stacking
  • Pushing on one aisle stack and causing merchandise to fall from another aisle stack
  • Stacking heavy merchandise on top of lighter merchandise
  • Stacking large boxes on top of small boxes

When a boxes fall from a height of 10 or 15 feet, it’s likely that there’s no warning whatsoever. Common injuries from falling merchandise include:

  • Traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries
  • Serious neck injuries
  • Fractured facial bones
  • Leg and foot fractures
  • Facial lacerations

Falling merchandise injuries are wholly and completely preventable. Store owners simply need to stack and display merchandise in such a way as it doesn’t fall onto customers from high above.

Slip and falls and trip and falls
Most slip and fall accidents are caused when a customer slips on a liquid or otherwise slippery substance inside of the Lowes store. Trip and falls are usually caused by merchandise or other obstructions in aisles or uneven surfaces. In a slip and fall, the victim ordinarily falls backward. In a trip and fall, they ordinarily trip forward. In either case, the victim wasn’t prepared for the fall. Very serious injuries can result.

The law of negligence
Whether it’s falling merchandise or a falling person, the law of negligence governs these types of cases. To prove negligence in a store injury case, the person claiming injury must prove the following elements.

  • That a duty was owed to prevent or warn him or her of possible injury
  • That the duty to prevent or warn was breached
  • That the breach of the duty caused the customer’s injury
  • That the customer suffered legally recognized damages

Failure to prove any single element will cause the negligence case to fail in its entirety.

Injuries from defective products
Under product liability law, the retailer who sells a dangerously defective product can be held strictly liable for the injury or death of a user of that product. The injuries or deaths are ordinarily alleged to have resulted from:

  • A design defect
  • A manufacturing defect
  • A failure to warn of the product’s inherent danger

As big as Lowes is, accidents either happen on their property or thorough products that they sell just about every day. If you or somebody close to you has been hurt inside of a Lowe’s store or by a product that Lowes sells, contact a California personal injury lawyer who is familiar with how the company operates. Customers injured by the negligence of Lowes deserve fair and just compensation.

On Feb. 4, 2016, a jury unanimously awarded more than $3.5 million to two plaintiffs, the successors of the deceased, in a wrongful death case in San Bernardino. Damages included funeral expenses, past and future costs for bodily injury for one of the plaintiffs, and past and future non-economic losses.

Facts of the Case

On July 6, 2011, the plaintiff was driving her minivan with her two children in Rice on Highway 62 in San Bernardino County.

The defendant and her husband traveled westbound but drove into on-coming traffic, resulting in a head-on collision with the van. One of the children, 16, succumbed to injuries from the accident at the scene. The plaintiffs stated that the defendant’s negligence caused the accident and subsequently filed the lawsuit. The defendant insisted that gravel on the side of the road caused her to swerve into the van, causing the accident. She further claimed that the girl was not properly secured by her seatbelt. However, the jury did not accept her defense.

The plaintiffs requested damages for physical injuries, including emotional distress, disfigurement, pain and suffering, physical impairment and loss of enjoyment of life. They also claimed the loss of: moral support, love, society, companionship, affection, comfort, protection, assistance and care.

The gross jury verdict was over $3.5 Million.  This included approximately $150,000 for present and future medical expenses for one of the children and the remainder for the wrongful death of the other child.

Statistics on Head On Collision Fatalities

Head-on collisions cause 10 percent of the deaths in a vehicular accident although they only make up 2 percent of all accidents. When two vehicles race toward each other, the force of the collision and the related impact now doubles. So if a car and a motorcycle each travelling at 40 miles per hour crash in a head-on collision, the impact equals 80 mph.

Additional national statistics from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials follow:

Nearly all of these accidents happen due to an “unintentional” action by the driver, such as:

• Falling asleep at the wheel
• Distraction from an electronic device or
• Failure to slow down when turning.

These accidents almost always occur when both parties are going straight or trying to navigate a turn.

About three-fourths of all fatal head-on collisions happen when no median divides the traffic traveling in opposite directions on rural roads.

The initial action can cause the accident, but sometimes, the driver overcorrects, which causes the accident instead.

California laws specifically address each of these situations as follows:

California Vehicle Code 21751: When on a two-lane road, the vehicle should remain on the
right-hand side of the road unless the driver can clearly see that the way is clear of any oncoming traffic to safely pass on the left-hand side of the road.

California Vehicle Code 21752: Drivers cannot ever drive on the left-hand side of the road in these scenarios:
• When approaching a curve or turn without a clear view
• When approaching a tunnel, viaduct or bridge without a clear view or
• When the driver is less than 100 feet from a railroad crossing.

California Vehicle Code Sections 23123, 23124, 23125: Drivers cannot use electronics while driving.

California Vehicle Code 23152: Drivers cannot drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

California Vehicle Code 22350: Drivers must navigate the roadways at safe and appropriate speeds for the conditions of the road.


Los Angeles, Street Accidents, Injury Attorneys, Accident LawyersAmong all of the traffic fatalities that happen each year in Los Angeles, almost half are pedestrians or cyclists. This is true even though pedestrians and cyclists are involved in around 14 percent of traffic accidents in the city. In order to combat this problem, the City of Los Angeles implemented the Vision Zero initiative, which is a concerted effort to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injury accidents by 2025. The primary focus is on pedestrians and bicyclists since they have the highest risk of death. To carry out the city’s initiative, the Los Angeles Vision Zero Alliance is working towards bringing the goals to fruition.

Vision Zero is a collaborative, worldwide effort aimed at eliminating traffic deaths by involving multiple government departments and agencies utilizing accident data in order to identify and address the highest risk categories and areas. Because they have very little protection, pedestrians and bicyclists are the most vulnerable of all people traveling on the roads.

Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive directive on Aug. 24, 2015, which established the Vision Zero initiative in Los Angeles as a citywide effort. Prior to that, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation had adopted the initiative in Sept. 2014 as a component of the department’s strategic plan. The City Council likewise adopted Vision Zero in Jan. 2016, making it a key part of the City’s Mobility Plan 2035.

A part of the preparation for the initiative’s implementation are studies conducted concerning crash causes throughout Los Angeles, as well as the steps that are needed in order to reduce or eliminate the causes. The city has moved on to the phase of determining the neighborhoods and areas that are at highest risk, such as where children and seniors may be, neglected neighborhoods and places where the most serious collisions tend to occur.

The Vision Zero Task Force and the Vision Zero Steering Committee, both established by Mayor Garcetti, are working together with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation in order to achieve the initiative’s purpose. Representatives on the steering committee include representatives from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the public works, water and power, fire and police departments. Nonprofit agencies and community organizations, as well as additional representatives from the city, make up the alliance and the task force.

Since the launch of the initiative, substantial research has been conducted into the incidence and causes of traffic collisions over a multi-year period. Consultants have also analyzed countermeasures that reduce the number of accidents, as well as the collision rates in cities that have implemented them across the U.S.

While the aim of Vision Zero may seem daunting, it is terrific that the City of Los Angeles is taking active steps and implementing measures aimed at reducing or eliminating serious injuries and fatalities caused by collisions. Since bicyclists and pedestrians have a much higher risk of being killed in traffic accidents than other types of motorists and travelers, it is obvious why they should be placed at the top of the list.

The Need to Contact An Experienced Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney After A Traffic Fatality

When a pedestrian or bicyclist is seriously injured or killed in an accident, either they or their family may need legal assistance. A personal injury lawyer may be able to help their clients recover the maximum amount needed to fairly compensate them for their suffered losses. If you or a family member have been a victim of a pedestrian or bicyclist collision with a motor vehicle, contact Los Angeles personal injury lawyer Steven M. Sweat, APC to learn more about your legal rights.

gas line explosionsWorking on a gas line is an extremely dangerous job. These individuals who choose to do so for the sake of supporting their families are putting their lives on the line each and every day. Unfortunately, there are instances where some don’t make it back home to their loved ones. However, it isn’t just the people who choose to work on the pipelines who are at risk of getting injured. Residential customers can also be at risk if the pipeline doesn’t do its job to make sure their pipelines are safe.

Take the gas explosion in San Bruno, California that left eight people dead and 50 others injured for example. All of those people would still be here today if the pipeline would have taken the necessary precautions to keep their customers and employees safe. Pacific Gas & Electric had 27 different violations stemming from the explosion. Had they taken the time to install the proper safety measures right from the beginning, those individuals would still be here today.

While PG&E plead not guilty to all of the charges against them, that doesn’t do anything to correct the problem at hand. Those eight people are just one instance of people passing away from a pipeline explosion due to something that wasn’t properly maintained. If the companies are truly trying to do their part to make their pipelines the safest they can be, there wouldn’t be any issue when it comes time to spend money on different safety measures. They would be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure everyone is safe and secure out in the field.

Because of all the recent explosions in the pipeline, US officials are stepping in and working hard to strengthen all of the different safety rules and regulations surrounding the 300,000-miles of pipeline running through the nation. The current proposal would involve expanding the rules surrounding repairs and inspections to include rural areas and any new lines installed in a gas drilling field.

The pipeline that broke back in 2010 was constructed in 1956. Had that pipeline been pressure tested like it should have been, the issue might not have occurred in the first place. It used to be that older lines were exempt from being tested, but that isn’t the case with the new safety proposal. The new safety proposal could help to prevent something like the San Bruno, California incident from ever happening again.

When the pipeline burst in 2010, it continued to spew gas for 95 minutes until a utility worker was able to get to the residential neighborhood and shut it down manually. During that 95 minutes, 38 homes were burned, eight people were killed and 50 others were injured. Had the pipeline had an emergency valve installed on it, the incident wouldn’t have spiraled out of control like it did. The emergency valve would have been able to shut the gas line down automatically, reducing the time to mere seconds.

Safety regulators are urging gas companies to install these valves. However, the gas companies are resisting due to the high cost of doing so. While it might cost anywhere from $600-700 million to correct the problem and ensure everyone in the area is safe, it is far better than the alternative where 46 people were killed, 181 were injured and $1.8 billion worth of damages was incurred. Beyond saving people’s lives, installing these valves could also help to save $3.2-4.7 billion from accidents.

Isn’t it worth spending millions now to save billions and countless people’s lives in the process? The gas lines need to take action and take the proper measures to ensure everyone in their service area is safe and secure.

crosswalk, pedestrian, accident, los angelesThe City of Los Angeles is installing 15 new pedestrian signals in the downtown area to reduce the risk of accidents while people cross the street. The signals belong to a new class of traffic-safety devices called headstart signals or leading pedestrian intervals, which are especially helpful in protecting pedestrians from vehicles attempting to make right-hand turns. The headstart signals allow people to begin crossing the street at intersections a full four seconds before motor vehicles receive a green light.

L.A. Councilman Champions Pedestrian Safety

Problems have emerged in the urban centers of many cities because of the number of pedestrians being injured or killed in accidents involving cars and trucks. However, Los Angeles is one of the first to make a major commitment to prevent and reduce pedestrian accidents with new technology, such as leading pedestrian intervals. Much of this effort has come from one member of the Los Angeles City Council: Jose Huizar.

Huizar explains that the headstart signals reduce confusion between pedestrians and drivers by giving those who are not protected inside a vehicle a chance to make the first move clearly and unambiguously before drivers have a chance to proceed.

“What happens now is when you have the pedestrian and the vehicle, the green light goes on for both of them at the same time, and there’s this moment, oftentimes, of negotiation between eye stares between the person in the vehicle and the pedestrian,” said Huizar. “Hey, do you see me? Do you not? Should I go? Should I not?”

Trial Began in 2014

Huizar and the rest of the authorities involved in city traffic understand precisely how effective these new traffic signals are because they have been on a trial run at two downtown intersections in Los Angeles since 2014: Broadway and 3rd Street and Broadway and 4th Street.

According to Huizar, the city has seen fewer collisions and fewer accidents as a whole at the two intersections where the headstart signals were installed. At the trial location, the two-block area has effectively been converted into a plaza were pedestrian safety is not only encouraged but also mandated by nothing more than a simple four-second delay.

New Signals Extended

In order to get the city to install the new traffic signals, Huizar gathered the evidence and waited for the Metro and Department of Transportation to come to him. At first, Metro arrived for a meeting about temporarily shutting down a few streets around 2nd and Broadway as the city builds an underground subway system as a regional connector.

It was then when Huizar sprung with an offer to install mitigation measures to help with the additional traffic the street closings will cause. Huizar then presented Metro with data concerning the headstart signals and encouraged the office to look at the crosswalks. With the endorsement of Metro, the Department of Transportation was a snap, and 15 intersections were identified where the new devices could be placed.

The total cost of the project is approximately $150,000, or about $10,000 per safety signal, which Huizar claims are not only targeted at drivers. He says that they also encourage pedestrians to remain alert. In addition, the signals have become integrated into a larger move to shift the city from a car-centric environment to one that is friendly to public transportation, alternative transportation and pedestrians.

Pedestrian Accidents Still Occur in Los Angeles

Although the new signals in Los Angeles are a step in the right direction, pedestrian accidents will never be eliminated altogether. If you are injured in a traffic accident as a pedestrian, do not hesitate to contact a reliable pedestrian accident attorney in Los Angeles to help you receive compensation for your damages.

School Bus Stop, Accidents, California, AttorneyWhile taking a bus to school is safer than walking or riding in a car, school bus stops also pose their own dangers. According to the Transportation Research Board, an average of 20 children die each year from school buses, with five fatalities occurring inside of the bus, five happening when children are struck by other vehicles and 10 occurring when children are struck by the bus itself. Another 6,000 are injured.

Causes of Accidents

Some accidents happen because drivers ignore school bus stop-arms, driving around the bus and striking children. Others happen when a bus driver fails to see a child and strikes them. Some happen when a child is getting on or off of the bus. Finally, some accidents happen because of poorly chosen bus stop locations. Poor locations may include those that are along roads with higher traffic speeds, next to roads with multiple lanes, near railroad tracks or in areas with poor visibility for both other drivers and children. A recent case in El Dorado County demonstrates the potential dangers of school bus stops for children.

The Case

On March 1, 2012, a 17-year-old high school student was waiting at a bus stop in the Sierra foothills in Camino California. The bus stop was located at the intersection of Mace Road and Pony Express Trail. There was a utility line guy-wire next to the stop. Near the stop was a high-speed curve along the road. A woman traveling on the roadway lost control of her vehicle as she rounded the curve, striking the girl and pushing her into the guy-wire. This resulted in the girl’s leg being amputated below the knee. Initially, the surgeons protected the end of her femur so she could support herself using a lower-leg prosthesis. She developed an infection, requiring more of her femur to be removed for an above-knee amputation. The girl filed a lawsuit against the driver, the school district and the county.


The plaintiff presented several experts, including an accident reconstructionist, her orthopedic surgeon, a psychiatrist, a vocational rehabilitation specialist, a traffic engineering professional and others. She argued that the school district had negligently selected the location of the bus stop, as it was on the outside edge of the road’s high-speed curve, but that it was not the main cause of the accident. She also argued that the roadway’s superelevation also contributed to the accident and that the county was thus partly responsible. Finally, the plaintiff argued that the driver was negligent, traveling too fast around the curve, which was the main cause of the accident.

The driver denied liability throughout the case and at trial. She argued that she was not driving too fast at the time of the accident, instead blaming the accident on the roadway conditions including alleged ice on it. She contended that the accident would not have occurred if the school district had not placed the bus stop where it did. The bus stop was moved from its location after the accident happened, which the jury also heard.

Settlements and Verdict

Before trial, the plaintiff reached a settlement with the school district for $4,500,000 and the county for $560,000. She demanded $2,900,000 from the defendant driver, whose insurance company offered the policy limits of $100,000. Because of the way in which she was reportedly treated by the insurance company, the girl, through her attorney, argued she was entitled to payment in full from it. After deliberating for two days, the jury determined that the driver was 50 percent responsible, the school district 45 percent and the county 5 percent. They returned an award of $9,860,630.86. After the earlier settlements were subtracted out, the plaintiff’s net recovery was $4,800,000.

Traveling to and from school on a school bus is much safer than either walking or riding in a passenger vehicle. As the case demonstrates, however, bus stops also pose dangers to children. Many are seriously injured because of cars traveling too fast or passing school buses that are stopped. Others are injured or killed when bus drivers strike them. If your child has been seriously injured in a pedestrian accident in California, contact a personal injury attorney to learn about your rights.

DUI Accident, Ventura CA, Lawsuit, AttorneyA jury in Ventura, CA recently reached a verdict about a DUI crash that occurred almost three years ago. The case involved a man named Francisco A. Briones, and the claim was against Christopher Lee Zink. The victim was only 21 years old at the time of the accident and had his entire life ahead of him. The accident occurred at 5:00 a.m. when Briones was driving to work at a nearby warehouse. He was in his parent’s uninsured vehicle at the time.

Mr. Briones was hit by a drunk driver who had a blood alcohol level of .14. In addition to being drunk, the driver had also suffered from sleep deprivation. The crash occurred because Zink had fallen asleep while he was driving. Briones ended up as a quadroplegic from the incident.

The case was different from an ordinary personal injury case because Briones did not have insurance coverage at the time of the vehicle, and he did not own the car. Zink’s defense attorneys tried to make those two issues shine against the victim. Zink’s faults were too heavy to outshine the plaintiff in wrongdoing, however. The court ended up ruling in favor of Briones because he posted a payment met the necessary financial requirements.

The jury found that Briones was in no way responsible for the accident. They awarded Briones more than $125 million in compensatory and punitive compensation. The plaintiff filed for the case in April of 2013. The jury just reached a verdict in January of 2016. It was a long case. Many personal injury lawyers try to settle out of court to avoid cases that stretch as long as this one did. Fortunately, the victim ended up getting the full compensation for the injuries and the additional neglect on the offender’s part. California drivers can learn a lot from this incident.

Drivers Are Responsible for Others

Part of the privilege of being issued a California license is that the state trusts the driver. The state trusts the driver to look out for the best interests of other people. A driver severely violates the law and breaches that trust when a DUI accident occurs.

DUI Incidents Call for Compensation

DUI crash victims are entitled to receive compensation for a variety of items because of the harsh nature of the neglect involved. The victim is eligible for compensation under the personal injury laws because of neglect involved with drinking and driving. Compensatory damages cover a person’s hospital bills, medication costs, therapeutic bills, household bills, and any wages that the person lost because of the inability to get to work. The compensatory damages also cover the costs of automobile repairs.

Punitive Damages Are Warranted

Punitive damages are a separate order that the judge may order in a case that involves “malice.” Malice is a term that usually means ill intention or intentional harm. Although the DUI driver may not set out to harm someone, the courts do see it as malice because the driver makes the choice to operate the vehicle in a drunken state. The courts made punitive damages easier to receive in a precedent that was set in a case of Taylor vs. Superior Court. The ruling was that the attorneys no longer had to prove malice in a DUI case to win an award because malice is already implied.

DUI driving is just not worth the consequences that can occur if an accident happens. Drivers in Ventura or anywhere in California are urged to hire designated drivers, and California injury victims are urged to obtain legal representation if an accident occurs.


DUI, Traffic Accidents, Injury ClaimsA San Diego jury awarded a plaintiff $1.5 million on Feb. 5, holding that On The Border, a Mexican chain restaurant, was liable for one of its employee’s drunk-driving hit-and-run accident. If the case survives an appeal, the decision could potentially have a huge impact on the meaning of the scope and course of employment in future cases, which determines whether or not an employer may be held liable for the actions of their employees.

The Case

In the incident, an employee of the Mission Valley restaurant stayed there after he had gotten off from his shift in order to have some drinks with his coworkers to celebrate his birthday. The group stayed for around three hours before heading home. Intoxicated, the defendant still decided to try to drive himself home after the party. While he was on his way, he struck and severely injured a Taiwanese foreign exchange student who was riding his skateboard in the bicycle lane. Instead of stopping, the defendant then drove off. The California Highway Patrol was later able to find the defendant, and he pled guilty to a felony count of hit-and-run driving.

Dram Shop Laws and the Potential Effect of This Case

California has significantly limited liability for businesses that serve alcohol to customers. These laws are called dram shop laws. Historically, the dram shop liability laws prevented people from suing a business for serving alcohol to a person who then left and caused a drunk driving accident. The protection for businesses extended even if the person being served was obviously intoxicated. In this case, the employer’s exposure to liability was greatly expanded beyond dram shop liability principles, however. The plaintiff instead relied on a theory called vicarious liability, through which an employer may be held liable for the actions of their employee if the employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the accident.

Employers and Vicarious Liability

The key issue in determining whether an employer may be held liable for their employee’s negligent or wrongful conduct is whether the employee was acting within the course and scope of their employment at the time or whether they were instead acting in a personal capacity. Normally, employees who are off-duty when they have accidents have been found to not be acting within the scope and course of their employment. The plaintiff’s attorney in the current case argued that, because On The Border regularly allowed its employees to remain on the premises and drink alcohol after work, the defendant was acting within the normal scope and course of his employment. This interpretation, if upheld on appeal, would greatly expand the meaning of what types of actions result in employer liability. If it is upheld, it is likely to cause businesses to make major changes in how they do things, possibly requiring employees to leave when they are not on the clock, refusing to serve alcohol to them and not allowing alcohol to be served at parties.

Similarity to Purton v. Marriott

In another case, Purton v. Marriott International Inc., the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District recently ruled that a business may be held to be vicariously liable for the actions of their employee for a drunk-driving accident that happened at an after-hours, company-sponsored party. The defendant worked as a bartender for the hotel, which through an annual holiday party at which alcohol was provided. The defendant drank alcohol before he arrived and continued to drink hard liquor while he was at the event. The hotel’s manager served as a bartender for the party, and he filled the employee’s flask so the employee could take it to go when he left. While the employee managed to make it home, a group of other employees also went to his house. After around 20 minutes, the employee tried to give one of his coworkers a ride to their home. On the way, the defendant employee rear-ended another driver while traveling at speeds of up to 100 m.p.h., resulting in the other driver’s death.

While the present case has some similarities to the facts of Purton v. Marriott, there is also one important difference. In Purton, the employer was held to be liable because the alcohol he drank was provided to him at a company party, and the manager provided the employee with additional alcohol to go. By contrast, the party in this case was not one that was sponsored by the restaurant.

Some legal experts do not believe the current ruling will be upheld on appeal. The large expansion of what defines the course and scope of employment would have a substantial impact on businesses across industries. It will be a case that should be interesting to watch, and employers may want to take note of it

truck accidents, trucking company liabilityLet’s say you are in your vehicle headed to the grocery store and waiting at a stop light. You look up in your review mirror and see a truck twice the size of your hatchback barreling towards you. The driver is looking down at a cell phone, and he’s not slowing down. He rear-ends your car. You’re injured, and now you have medical bills and missed time from work.

The commercial truck driver isn’t the only one who may be held responsible for your injuries, medical bills and time lost from work due to vicarious liability. The trucking company who hired the truck driver can be held vicariously liable for the driver’s negligence under a legal principle called “respondeat superior.” That means “let the master answer.” The theory holds an employer liable for an employee’s negligence, like the trucker looking at his cell phone while in the course of his employment in our example.

For an employer to be held liable, the negligent act has to occur within a set of determining factors:
– Was the employee on the clock?
– Was the injury caused by an activity the employee is paid to do?
– Was the employer benefiting by the employee’s activity at the time of injury?

Our trucker in our example was on the clock, driving the truck to be unloaded for his employer and the employer would have been paid for this service; so unfortunately for the employer, they could be held vicariously liable for your injuries. Alternatively, if the trucker was using the truck for a personal matter, like helping a buddy move while off the clock without the employer’s consent, then the employer could likely not be held responsible under vicarious liability.

A real life example of vicarious liability can be seen in the case of Pedro Diaz Rodriquez v. Enmanuel Parada, Business Solutions Transport, Penske Truck Leasing Corporation, and Does 1 through 30.

In February 2012, Mr. Rodriquez was driving along the interstate when he was rear-ended by a commercial truck driven by commercial truck driver Enmanual Parada. Mr. Rodriguez sustained injuries to his head, spine, neck, and left elbow. He underwent cervical fusion surgery to repair his spine, and claimed to continue to experience pain as a result of the auto accident injuries.

Mr. Rodriquez sued Mr. Parada since he was driving the commercial truck that hit him; Mr. Parada’s employer, Business Solutions Transport; and Penske Truck Leasing as they owned the Penske truck Mr. Parada was driving. Penske Truck Leasing was let out of the case, however, because Mr. Parada was not their employee. It was determined that Mr. Parada’s negligence caused the accident during the scope of his employment with Business Solutions Transport.

Although Penske Truck’s vehicle was determined not to be at fault, Business Solutions Transport was not so lucky. As Mr. Parada’s employer, they were held vicariously liable for the injuries Mr. Rodriquez sustained, because the case involving their employee, Mr. Parada, met the factors outlined above:

– Mr. Parada was on the clock at the time of the accident.
– Mr. Rodriquez’s injuries were caused by Mr. Parada’s driving of the commercial truck, an activity he is paid to do for Business Solutions Transport.
– Business Solutions Transport was benefiting from Mr. Parada’s driving of the commercial truck at the time of Mr. Rodriquez’s injuries.

By way of jury verdict, Mr. Rodriquez was awarded $3.8 million dollars finding Mr. Parada’s negligence was the substantial factor causing harm. Mr. Rodriquez likely hired an experienced commercial truck accident attorney to assist with his case so he received compensation for his injuries, past and future medical bills, and past and future lost wages from work.

Contact a Commercial Truck Accident Attorney

Attorneys who specialize in handling motor vehicle accidents involving commercial trucks understand vicarious liability, and how it relates to pursuing the rights of accident victims in court. If you are involved in a crash causing injury or death related to the negligence or wrongdoing of a commercial vehicle operator, it’s in your best interest to consult a commercial truck accident attorney.