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Victor v. Hedges

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Hedges was showing Victor an item, owned by Thermtech, Inc., that was in the back of his car. To do so, Hedges parked his vehicle on the sidewalk, which was a violation of Cal. Veh. Code § 22500. Due to the construction in the area, the street was very bumpy. Williams, an individual driving in the area, took his eyes off the road to fast-forward a cassette. At this time Williams steering wheel jerked and his car pulled to the right and struck Victor. Victor brought suit against Hedges, Williams, and Thermtech Inc. The trial court granted summary judgment for Hedges and Thermtech. Victor appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Under negligence per se cause of action, a violation of a safety statute does not warrant liability when the statute was not designed to protect against the event that caused the injury.

    Facts.

    Michael Hedges invited Stephani Victor to see a new compact disc player, owned by Thermtech, Inc.,that Hedges had the back of his Ford Explorer.To do so, Hedges parked his car on the sidewalk, approximately three to four feet from the curb, in violation of Cal. Veh. Code § 22500. Due to construction that was taking place in the area, the street was parallel to the sidewalk and the street was reduced to one lane. Also, the area contained gravel, potholes, and other bumpy conditions that created jerky movements for drivers as they drive in the area.As Mark Williams was driving in the area, he took his eyes off the road to fast-forward a cassette tape. At this moment, Williams’ steering wheel jerked, causing his car to pull to the right and two of his tires hit the curb and pop. Subsequently, Williams’car then struck Victor, causing Victor serious injury. Victor sued Williams, Hedges, and Thermtech. Victor presented expert testimony that indicated, based on traffic engineering human factors, one could predict that due to the street conditions that Williams’s car may veer to the right, as it did. The trial court ruled in Hedges and Thermtech’s favor by granting summary judgment. Victor appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether under negligence per se cause of action, a violation of a safety statute does not warrant liability when the statute was not designed to protect against the event that caused the injury.

    Held.

    Yes, under negligence per se cause of action, a violation of a safety statute does not warrant liability when the statute was not designed to protect against the event that caused the injury.

    Discussion.

    Pursuant to California law, a defendant is presumed to have acted negligent if (1) the defendant violates a statute, (2) that proximately causes the plaintiff injury or death, and (3) the statute is designed to protect against the specific event that caused the plaintiffinjury, and (4) the statute is designed to protect a class of persons in which the plaintiff is included. Both elements 3 and 4 are questions of law. In this case, Hedges violated Cal. Veh. Code § 22500 by parking his vehicle on the sidewalk. However, Victor cannot presume negligence per se because the event that caused her injury was not of a type that the statute was created to prevent. Instead, the statute was specially designed for pedestrian access to such area. Further, a car that is stopped on a sidewalk may hinder a pedestrian to access the sidewalk by (1) obstructing the pedestrian’s movement or (2) causing an injury where the pedestrian is located (a) requiring the pedestrian to walk around the stopped vehicle, (b) walks into the vehicle, or (c) be hit by the vehicle when its driver puts it in motion. Here, Hedges illegally manner of parking his car sidewalk did create any of the following risks, deeming the doctrine of negligence per se to be inapplicable. Also, Hedges and Thermtech cannot be deemed liable under ordinary negligence because ordinary negligence occurs where the defendant’s conduct falls below the standard of care that an average person in the community provide to another to avoid unreasonable risk of harm. When a defendant’s knowledge of such a risk is superior to that of an average person, the defendant is held to a higher standard of superior knowledge. Moreover, the defendant must breach the standard of care and cause the plaintiff a harm that was reasonably foreseeable. In this case, it Hedges or an average person in the community could not foresee that a driver would lose control of their car and strike Victor on the sidewalk. Despite the fact that Victor presented expert testimony that indicated that such conduct was foreseeable, the court cannot hold Hedges or another average member of the community to such high standard. Therefore, the lower court’s judgment is affirmed.


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