Can Model Traffic Regulations Be Used To Establish A Claim For Negligence?
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.
Hyman v. Robinson, 713 S.W.2d 300 (Mo. Ct. App. 1986).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can model traffic regulations be used to establish a claim for negligence?
Model regulations are those drafted for adoption by cities, counties, and states around the country. Such ordinances are normally drafted by legal groups and seek to serve as highly efficient laws that avoid problems of unanticipated interpretations or ambiguities. In this case, each side was allowed to read to the jury model traffic ordinances that had never been actually adopted by the city of St. Louis. Id. at 301-02. The court ultimately determined that these model ordinances should not have been presented to the jury, but the Plaintiff could not point to any prejudice, so overturning the verdict was not appropriate. Id. at 302. Further, Plaintiff had offered ordinance first, so she may have opened the door to allow Defendant to present a rebuttal model ordinance. Id.
In this case, the Plaintiff was a paramedic. Id. at 301. Plaintiff was riding in an ambulance when a call came in. Id. This led to the driver, another paramedic, to enter an intersection through a red light. Id. The driver was about to turn on his sirens at the time of the collision, where Defendant hit the ambulance. Id. Plaintiff offered a model ordinance, not adopted by St. Louis, that stated an ambulance may disregard traffic signals in emergency situations and other drivers should always be alert concerning emergency-response vehicles. Id. Defendant countered this statute by reading another model ordinance, which stated that sirens or the vehicle’s horn must be used when entering an intersection through a red traffic signal. Id. The jury ultimately found that the Defendant had not been negligent and Plaintiff appealed the verdict. Id.
The court noted that “the general rule is that courts cannot take judicial notice of city ordinances.” Id. Further, model ordinance, not adopted by the relevant city, seemed to lack the necessary relevance to issues of the suit. Id. at 302. Thus, the court would not have allowed un-adopted regulations to be admitted into evidence. Id. However, another issue was present in this case: Plaintiff had also introduced a model ordinance! Id. The court was certainly not inclined to punish Defendant for responding to actually what Plaintiff was arguing was improper. Id. Thus, the court allowed the verdict to stand but cautioned that such model laws should not be admitted going forward. Id.