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Road rage leads to death and questions of liability

The complex freeway system in the Los Angeles area frequently leads to multi-vehicle collisions in which the determination of liability can be difficult. California uses the concept of comparative negligence to assign liability if more than one person is potentially at fault for an accident. A recent case of road rage on Interstate No. 5 that caused a fatal auto accident shows how tangled these questions can become.

Two drivers heading north on I-5 apparently touched bumpers and began arguing. One of the drivers stopped his vehicle, a Pontiac Grand Prix, in one of the northbound lanes for no apparent reason. A small Chevy SUV hit the Pontiac, causing it to crash into the center median barrier. The driver got out of his car and ran across the freeway to confront the driver of the Chevy, whose vehicle was stopped on the shoulder. After the two men finished their argument, the driver of the Pontiac attempted to re-cross the freeway to return to his vehicle. He was struck by a Toyota Corolla and tossed into the path of a Honda Civic. He was declared dead at the scene.

Who can sue whom? The dead man's family can bring a wrongful death claim against the drivers of the Chevy SUV, the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic. But what about the dead man? Wasn't he negligent in attempting to cross the freeway on foot? And how fast were the Toyota and the Honda travelling? If the case goes to trial, the jury will be required to assign percentages of fault to each party, including the decedent. The judge will then use these percentages to calculate the amount that each party owes. If the decedent is found to be more than 50% at fault, his survivors will not able to recover from any of the other drivers. Even if the decedent is less than 50% at fault, his survivors will not be able to recover from any party found to have a smaller percentage of fault.

Anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in a multi-vehicle accident may wish to consult an attorney who specializes in accident cases. An experienced lawyer can provide an analysis of the case, advice on the effect of the comparative negligence law and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

Source: Carlsbad Patch, "Lanes Reopen on I-5 in Carlsbad After Fatal Collision," Autumn Johnson, April 6, 2016

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