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Monday, February 21, 2011

Strict Liability vs. Negligence

    Hammontree v. Jenner:
    Court of Appeal of California (1971)
    20 Cal.App.3d 528, 97 Cal.Rptr. 739
    Issue: Did the judge err in refusing the summary judgment, directed verdict, and jury instructions?
    Rule: Negligence, Strict Liability
    -Defendant was driving his 1959 Chevrolet home from work; at the same time the plaintiff was working in the garage owned by her husband.
    -Defendants car crashed through the wall of the shop, striking the plaintiff and causing damages to the shop
    -Defendant contended that he became unconscious during an epileptic seizure, causing him to lose control of the vehicle. He stated that he did not recall the accident, and his last recollection before it was him leaving a stop light after his last stop. His first recollection after the accident was being taken out of his car
    -At Trial Court:
    -Plaintiffs move for summary judgment
    -Plaintiffs move for directed verdict on pleadings and opening arguments
    - Plaintiff withdrew the claim of negligence, then after both parties had rested, the plaintiffs objected to the giving of jury instructions on negligence, and rested solely on the principle of absolute liability. The plaintiff then waived their opening and closing jury arguments.
    -Precedent has held that liability of a driver suddenly stricken by an illness rendering him unconscious is negligence, not absolute liability (Waters v. Pacific Coast; Ford v. Carew & English; Zabunoff v. Walker)
    -Maloney v. Rath: Only the legislator can assign strict liability for drivers, if the courts did, problems would arise
  1. Without substantial detail, there would be much confusion about the automobile accident problem
  2. Settlement and claims adjustment procedures would become chaotic until new rules were worked out case-by-case
  3. Hardships of delaying compensation would be intensified
  4. -Plaintiff contends that negligence is outdated in light of new principles imposing liability on manufactures, retailers, and all distributive and vending elements and activities which bring a product to the consumer to his injury
    -Theory upon which manufacturer liability is predicated is that they are engaged in the business of distributing goods to the public and are an integral part of the overall producing and manufacturing enterprise that should bear the cost of defective parts
    -Plaintiff argues that insurance carriers should be the ones to bear the cost of injuries to innocent victims on a strict liability basis.
    -Plaintiff argues that only the driver affected by a physical condition, which could suddenly render him unconscious and who is aware of that condition can anticipate the hazards and foresee the dangers involved in the operation of a motor vehicle
    -Proposed Instructions?:Liability of those who by reason of seizure or heart failure or some other physical condition lose the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle and cause injury to an innocent person should be held liable under strict liability.
    -Also wrong because a driver who is stricken by an illness or physical condition which he had no reason whatever to anticipate and of which he had no prior knowledge
    Conclusion: No, negligence must be shown

-Plaintiffs:  Injured parties of an automobile accident, owners of the shop where the accident occurred (husband and wife)
-Defendant: Driver of the vehicle, a known epileptic

-Physical to Maxine (plaintiff), and damages to the shop owned by her husband (plaintiff)

Procedural History:
-Trial court: Judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of defendant
-Court of Appeals: Affirmed

Relief Sought:
-Damages for personal injury and property damage

Medical History:
-Prior to 1952: Examined by neurologist, who determined that the condition could be controlled by medication
-1952: Suffered a seizure while fishing
-1952: Dr. Hyatt diagnosed his condition as 'petit mal seizure' and kept him on the same medication
-Thereafter, saw Dr. Hyatt every 6 months and then on a yearly basis until 1967
-1953: Had another seizure and was told he was an epileptic
-1954: Dr. Kershner prescribes Dilantin
-1955: Dr. Hyatt prescribes Phelantin
-1955-67: Defendant takes Phelantin on regular basis
-1955: DMV advised that defendant was an epileptic and placed him on probation, under which every 6 months he had to report to the Doctor, who was required to advise in writing of the defendants condition
-1960: Probation changed to a yearly basis.

Husbands Loss: Loss of Consortium (loss of services of wife-- either working or at the house)

Res ipsa loquitur: Refers to the situation where it is assumed that the person was negligent, because the accident was the sort that wouldn’t occur unless someone was negligent.

Motion for Summary Judgment:  Ends the case if:
No dispute for any material fact, and that given the material facts that everyone agrees-- the law is that the party that raises the motion will win.
-Judgment that is given immediately, before there is any trial at all

Affidavit: Sworn statement as to the facts

Motion for directed verdict:
-After the plaintiff has put on evidence, defendant moves for a directed verdict on the grounds that there is insufficient evidence to convince any reasonable jury to find in favor of the plaintiff.
-After the defendants made his motion and lost, the defendant will put on evidence. The plaintiff moves on the ground that any reasonable person must find the facts as claimed to be.

-Following precedent
-If to adopt Strict liability, it would cause confusion, uncertainty, lead to chaos
-Legislator could do it better
-Instruction plaintiff suggested was wrong anyways- no exception

Is negligence a required element of a cause of action against drivers for injuries arising out of  an automobile accident on the plaintiffs property, caused by sudden incapacity of the defendant, who knew that he had the condition that lead to the incapacity, but had no reason to foresee the particular attack


  1. Judging from your last few posts, taking Latin in your undergrad would be a huge help for law school. Wtf does 'res ipsa loquitur' mean? Well, thanks to your post, I now know.

  2. Perhaps your posts will help me learn more about law. An interesting read, either way.

  3. Agreed with Shelby, wtf does that means? O.o

  4. interesting post, I enjoy the translation for non majors

  5. Aw man this is great, could be very useful for someone who is studying.

  6. @Shelby

    If I remember correctly, "res ipsa loquitur" roughly translates to "the thing speaks for itself." Meaning that in this case, there was a presumption of negligence.

  7. These notes sure are specific. I almost draw a picture in my mind of the case.

  8. i really like reading your posts... i keep feeling like one day, someone will talking nonsense and i will be able to interject with fact. ill let you know if that day ever comes ;)

  9. Wow, pretty in depth notes, you seem to know how to handle everything! Good luck!

  10. hmm sounds really interesting

  11. thats a really complex case, are you currently in law school?