In Lawson et al. v. Safeway Inc. et al., (Case No.
A125209) the California Court of Appeal (First Appellate District)
affirmed a jury verdict in favor of plaintiffs and held that the
driver of a legally parked tractor-trailer truck owes a duty of
care to those injured in an accident when the tractor-trailer truck
obstructs the vision of other motorists.
A Safeway tractor-trailer was parked legally on the side of U.S.
Highway 101, close to an intersection near Crescent City, blocking
the view of oncoming traffic. A driver in a pick-up truck
attempting to cross over and merge onto the 101 subsequently
collided with motorcyclists Charles and Connie Lawson. The Lawsons
filed suit for personal injuries against Safeway, the driver of the
Safeway truck, the driver of the pickup, and the State of
California. At trial, a jury awarded substantial damages to the
plaintiffs and apportioned 35 percent fault to Safeway, 35 percent
to the State of California, and 30 percent to the driver of the
The primary issue on appeal was whether the driver of the
Safeway truck owed a duty of care to those injured in the accident
when legally parked. In finding that a duty existed, the court
applied the long standing test for the existence of a duty,
"The principal consideration in deciding whether a duty is
owed is the foreseeability of the harm (Dillon v. Legg
(1968) 68 Cal.2d 728, 740), which "'is not to be measured
by what is more probable than not, but includes whatever is likely
enough in the setting of modern life that a reasonably thoughtful
[person] would take account of it in guiding practical
conduct" (Bigbee v. Pacific Tel. & Tel. Co.
(1983) 34 Cal.3d 49, 58).
The Court of Appeal affirmed the verdict in favor of plaintiffs
and held that Safeway owed a duty to park safely, as well as
legally, because of the particular facts of this case, where the
parked vehicle was a 65 feet long, 13 1/2 feet tall, 8 1/2 feet
wide, and the evidence showed that: the drivers of such trucks are
or should be professionally trained to be aware of the risk of
blocking other drivers' sight lines when parking; the truck was
parked at a high-speed well-traveled intersection; and a safe
parking spot was available right around the corner.
In analyzing the issue of foreseeability, the Court held that
"it is readily foreseeable that parking a large, commercial
truck near an intersection may obstruct the views of passing
motorists and cause them to collide." While the Court
acknowledged that "drivers should ordinarily have no exposure
to liability if they are legally parked" and "parked
vehicles often obstruct views in ways that increase the risk of
nearby collisions, and that liability would not be appropriate in
the great majority of such situations," it nonetheless
determined that "this case is different and involves a
situation where the risk of foreseeable harm was, in our view,
Notably, the California Supreme Court is presently deciding the
case of Cabral v. Ralphs Grocery (Case No. S178799)
("Cabral"). In Cabral, the
defendants' tractor-trailer truck was illegally parked in an
"Emergency Parking Only" area on the side of a freeway
when plaintiff lost control of his vehicle and collided with the
rear of the defendants' tractor-trailer, dying on impact. The
Fourth Appellate District held that the driver of the
tractor-trailer truck owed no duty of care to freeway motorists not
to park for non-emergency reasons in an "Emergency Parking
Only" area at the side of a freeway. The Court of Appeal also
held that the act of parking in the "Emergency Parking
Only" area was not a substantial factor in causing
While Cabral remains under review, the significance of
the Court's ruling in Lawson is considerable as it
effectively creates an affirmative duty for truck drivers to
account for the sight lines of passing vehicles, regardless of the
legality of the parking location. Transportation companies should
instruct their drivers to seek parking locations that remain a safe
distance from active thoroughfares, particularly with adjacent
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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