What If the Light at the Intersectional Malfunctioned and Caused the Car Accident?Salman v. Cooper, 633 So. 2d 570 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1994)
This lawsuit arose out of an intersection collision where an automobile passenger was injured in a two car accident. The automobile passenger, Leila Salman, sued her daughter (the operator of the vehicle in which she was riding) and Larry Baker (the driver of the second vehicle) alleging negligent operation by both defendants. She also sued Foreign Continental Cars Inc., the dealership who lent her daughter the car for a test drive and the car’s owner Betty Cooper. Cooper and the dealership were sued solely for vicarious liability based on Suzanne’s negligence.
This intersectional accident occurred at 7:00 p.m. as she made a left turn at the intersection of Federal Highway and Hillsboro Boulevard in Deerfield Beach. Suzanne observed a green arrow before she began to turn but had not continued to look at the light as she was making the left turn. As Suzanne crossed the intersection, the vehicle was struck by Baker’s car while he was driving North on Federal Highway. Baker stated that the light turned green as he approached and crossed through the intersection at about 40 miles per hour. A witness, who was traveling north, stated that the light turned green and the car tried to turn before the oncoming cars began to move and supposed that someone going north must have gotten a jump start on the light because when the car began to turn they were hit.
Defendants argued that the jury could have properly found in favor of both defendants based on the doctrine of unavoidable accident and that the traffic lights might have malfunctioned due to the nearby construction, therefore Suzanne could have a green arrow while Baker had a green light with neither defendant at fault. The unavoidable accident doctrine is applicable only when the injury does not result from the negligence of either party. Under this doctrine an unavoidable accident occurs while all persons involved are exercising ordinary care, the accident is not caused by the fault of any of the persons. All persons are relieved of liability for the fact that they are not guilty of actionable negligence because the element of proximate cause does not exist from the lack of causal connection between the action and the damages sustained.
The court rejected these arguments stating that Suzanne testified that she hadn’t seen the arrow while she turned and even if the light had malfunctioned, with both drivers having green lights, one with the arrow and one with the green light, each of them still had the responsibility to exercise due care and to abide by traffic laws. The court stated that having a green light did not entitle Baker to enter the intersection without impunity and that a vehicle with a green light may proceed with caution but is required to yield the right of way to other vehicles and pedestrians lawfully in the intersection. The same applied to Suzanne, the driver with the green arrow, applying the additional requirements to yield to vehicles driving the opposite direction within the intersection, and vehicles close enough to constitute an immediate hazard. The court concluded that there was no evidence that the accident was unavoidable or was the result of intervening causes or any other cause besides the negligence of one of the defendants.
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