Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Defense Verdict for Driver Who Admitted ‘Mistake’ Upheld
Negligence Is Jury Question if Defendant Exercises ‘Some Care,’ Panel Rules
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Negligence is a jury question when a defendant in a traffic collision exercised “some care,” so a verdict in favor of such a defendant will not be overturned solely because he or she admitted a mistake in judgment, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
“[L]ong-standing and consistent precedent teach that negligence is a question of fact where, as here, there is evidence that a driver exercised at least some care and therefore might have acted reasonably even if his or her action ultimately led to a car collision,” Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst wrote for Div. Two.
The court upheld a verdict in favor of Joshua B. Nozar, who, as a Santa Monica College student, was looking for an off-campus parking spot while late for class six years ago. He was sued after his vehicle collided with one driven by Sassa Minnegren.
Two eyewitnesses testified. One said she saw Nozar’s Range Rover “shoot” out from 10th Street and collide with the other vehicle, following which she repeatedly heard Nozar apologize.
The way Nozar was driving was “very scary” because he accelerated through the intersection of 10th and Broadway without stopping at a stop sign, the witness said.
The other eyewitness said he was in a café at the intersection when he heard a “very loud acceleration,” then saw the Range Rover, which was moving very fast, hit the plaintiff’s small car as it veered to the right attempting to avoid colliding with Nozar.
A police officer testified that Nozar said he stopped at the stop sign, then proceeded into the intersection after seeing no other cars. The officer said Nozar’s speed was a factor in the collision.
Called as a plaintiff’s witness under Evidence Code §776, Nozar said he stopped behind the limit line for about five seconds, and thought he could proceed safely. He admitted seeing Minnegren’s car before he proceeded.
He admitted that Minnegren had the right-of-way, and answered affirmatively when her lawyer asked if he “made a bad judgment.”
Asked if he caused the collision, he answered:
“Um, I would say I did cause it but not intentionally. I tried my best to make a judgment call. Unfortunately, it was...wrong….I’m only human. I made a mistake.”
Lets Verdict Stand
The jury found in favor of the defendant. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John J. Kralick denied the plaintiff’s motions for JNOV based on insufficiency of the evidence and for a new trial.
Ashmann-Gerst, writing for the appellate panel, said there was sufficient evidence of care to support the judgment.
The plaintiff’s contention that Nozar’s admissions precluded the jury from deciding the issue of negligence is “novel,” the justice said.
Because the issues of breach of duty, and causation, are factual in nature, “whether Nozar believed and admitted after the fact that he caused the collision by pulling into the intersection when it was not safe for him to proceed does not categorically mean that…the jury was foreclosed from rendering a verdict in favor of Nozar,” she wrote.
The defendant’s testimony that he saw the plaintiff’s vehicle and thought he could proceed safely, the justice elaborated, was sufficient to place before the jury the issue of whether he exercised due care. Ashmann-Gerst cited several cases upholding defense verdicts in cases where the defendant clearly made a mistake in judgment.
Attorneys on appeal in Minnegren v. Nozar, 16 S.O.S. 5248, were AlderLaw’s Michael Alder, Stephen K. McElroy, Mary L. Caruso, and Joanna R. Allen for the plaintiff and Wesierski & Zurek’s Arpineh Yeremian and Lynne Rasmussen for the defendant.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company