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California Supreme Court overturns “no duty” rule

Cabral v. Ralph’s Grocery

In Maria Cabral v. Ralph’s Grocery Company, S178799, filed by the California Supreme Court on February 28, 2011, the Court held in favor of an accident victim and took a very restrictive view of the “no duty rule”.

Cabral arose from a motor vehicle collision in which a truck driver, working for Ralph’s Grocery Company (“Ralph’s”), stopped his tractor-trailer rig alongside an interstate highway in order to have a snack. The plaintiff’s husband, decedent Adelelmo Cabral, for reasons unknown, veered off the highway and collided with the tractor-trailer, resulting in his death. The case was tried to a jury. The jury found both parties to be negligent, but allocated 90% of the fault for the accident to Cabral and 10% of the fault to Ralph’s tractor trailer driver. Under California’s comparative fault law, the trial court entered a judgment for Cabral’s widow for 10% of her damages.

Ralph’s appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Ralph’s owed no legal duty to Cabral. The California Supreme Court unequivocally disagreed with the Court of Appeals and reversed and reinstated the trial court’s judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

The Court noted that California law long ago established the general duty of each person to exercise, in his or her activities, reasonable care for the safety of others. The Court recognized exceptions to this firmly established general rule, but clearly indicated that they are extremely limited in scope and application. The Court reasoned that, in order for the “no duty rule” to apply, it would have to find it categorically unforeseeable for drivers to lose control of their vehicles, leave a freeway and collide with any obstacle placed there. Furthermore, the court stated that, in order for the “no duty rule” to apply, it would also have to find that public policy clearly demanded that truck drivers be universally permitted, without the possibility of civil liability for a collision, to take non-emergency breaks alongside freeway in area where regulations permitted only emergency parking.

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Tom Sokat

Tom is a personal injury attorney with over 30 years experience. He has two offices in the East Bay, on in Danville, another in Pleasanton. He is passionate about being the champion for the little guy and getting them compensation for their injuries when due.

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