Negligence Per Se – Applying a Legal Theory to the Collision of a Big Rig and a Muni Light Rail

Few concepts are as fundamental to the field of civil injury law as the notion of negligence. As a plaintiff’s law firm, a key part of our job is proving that the defendant was negligent and that this negligence was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In this post, our San Francisco personal injury attorney looks at a special form of negligence – negligence per se – a concept that helps plaintiffs fulfill their legal burden and show the judge/jury that the defendant should be held liable and ordered to compensate the plaintiffs for their injuries.

Big Rig’s Illegal Turn Leads to Crash with Light Rail Train
San Francisco’s ABC affiliate reported on a serious collision that occurred last Friday between a big rig and a light rail train. Witness reports helped San Francisco Police conclude that the driver of the big rig attempted to turn left onto Third Street from Innes Avenue despite signs clearly stating that left turns were not permitted. While attempting the illegal turn, the 18-wheel truck was struck by the Muni light rail train. Police did not immediately charge the driver despite concluding he was at fault

Following the collision, emergency personnel set up a triage system to treat passengers. Twenty people were injured in the crash and eleven were taken to the hospital for ailments that ranged from minor to more serious injuries.

The Law of Negligence… scales.jpg
In most cases, accident claims rest on a theory of negligence. This is described in California Civil Jury Instruction (“CACI”) Number 401: “Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others.” Broadly speaking, negligence is present when a person fails to act in the manner a reasonably prudent person would act under the circumstances and this results in someone else being injured. In order successfully argue a negligence claim, the injured plaintiff will need to prove four elements: 1) Duty of care (ex. duty of a store owner to keep the property safe; duty of drivers to other motorists); 2) Breach (failure to meet that duty); 3) Causation (the breach caused the injuries); 4) Damages (the injury, usually looked at in monetary terms).

…and the Special Rule of Negligence Per Se
Negligence per se provides a shortcut for proving negligence. In these cases, the plaintiff does not need to show that a reasonable individual would have acted differently. Negligence per se exists when the defendant violates a law that is intended to protect the public from harm. Again, the California Civil Jury Instructions are useful with CACI Number 418 providing: “If you decide 1. That [name of plaintiff/defendant] violated this law and 2. That the violation was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm, then you must find that [name of plaintiff/defendant] was negligent [unless you also find that the violation was excused].”

Last week’s accident may give rise to one or more personal injury lawsuit. Since it appears that the truck driver violated one or more traffic laws, rules that exist to keep all motorists and bystanders safe, the rule of negligence per se will probably apply. If that is the case (and this is merely speculation, not legal advice for those involved), the plaintiffs would still need to show that the conduct caused their injuries and show the monetary value of those injuries, but the plaintiffs would not need to show that a reasonable person would have behaved differently than the truck driver acted under the circumstances..

Our Personal Injury Law Firm
With more than three decades of experience, Attorney Wes Pittman is committed to serving as a lawyer for injury victims in Northern California. Whether your case involves negligence per se or some other legal theory, our team will keep you informed as your case progresses and work to get you the compensation you deserve. Call to schedule a free initial consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:
Understanding Injury Law: Preparing Your Case Begins with the Facts
San Francisco Bicycle Accident Attorney on Safety and The Policy of Contributory Negligence

(Photo by Clyde Robinson of work by Jason Luper)