CAN PROOF OF A STATUTORY TRAFFIC VIOLATION CONSTITUTE NEGLIGENCE PER SE?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Burns v. Benedict, 827 F.Supp. 1545 (D. Kan. 1993).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can proof of a statutory traffic violation constitute negligence per se?
This case explored the issue of whether proof of a statutory traffic violation can constitute negligence per se. Negligence per se is a term used when a defendant is automatically found guilty of negligence for violating a law (such as running a red light). Unlike ordinary negligence which requires that certain elements be proven to find the defendant guilty, negligence per se only requires that the defendant violate the law in order to be guilty. In exploring this issue, the court concluded that statutory traffic violations can constitute negligence per se and a defendant can be found guilty of negligence for violating traffic violations. Id. at 1546.
This case arose out of an automobile collision between vehicles operated by a delivery driver and another driver. Id. at 1546. The plaintiff was a passenger in the delivery driver’s car and was injured in the collision. Id. The delivery driver was driving her vehicle searching for a house to which she was making a delivery for her employer. Id. at 1547. Since the delivery driver was not familiar with the area and was searching for the house, she was not paying attention to the road when she approached an intersection. Id. The delivery driver failed to stop her automobile before entering the intersection or yield to the other driver. Id. Additionally, the delivery driver failed to maintain a proper lookout. Id. The other driver observed the delivery driver as she was about to enter the intersection but she did not attempt to slow down or take evasive action until too late, believing that the delivery driver was going to honor the yield sign and stop. Id. Subsequently, it was determined that the other driver was exceeding the speed limit and could have possibly avoided the collision had she been driving at the posted speed. Id. at 1548. After trial, the court decided that the delivery driver was 75% at fault and the other driver was 25% at fault. Id. at 1549.
The court addressed the different laws that the drivers violated. According to the court, Kansas law required every driver approaching a yield sign to slow down or stop as to yield the right of way to any vehicle in or so closely approaching the intersection. Id. at 1548-49. Since the delivery driver violated this law, she was negligent per se and automatically guilty of negligence. Id. at 1549. Furthermore, Kansas law provided that the speed at the intersection was 25 miles per hour. Id. Therefore, since the other driver was found to be exceeding this speed, she was negligent per se and automatically guilty of negligence. Id.
The reason the court determined that the delivery driver was 75% at fault was because she left such little margin for error when she did not yield at the intersection. Id. at 1548. The court found that even if the other driver was going the speed limit, there was still a chance that the collision would have occurred. Id.
In sum, the court concluded that both drivers were negligent per se (automatically guilty of negligence) due to their violations of statutory traffic laws. Id. at 1546.