Woodland Hills car Accident lawyer Barry P. Goldberg speaks to left turn accident new clients almost on a daily basis. If you are the left turner, it is a difficult (but not impossible) case. The corollary, is that you are the one going straight and you are hit buy the left turner. A very common scenario that we see regularly is when 2 of 3 lanes have stopped to allow a left turner to pass in front to go into a driveway. Unfortunately, the left turner does not see or did not consider the 3rd lane traffic that knows nothing of the “social agreement” with lanes 1 and 2 which are allowing the turn. In fact, the insurers are trying to blame the traffic in lane 3—“they should have known of the left turner!” Next, the insurer determines that the driver with the “right of way” is partially at fault from 20-50%.
A look at the jury instructions and case law shows that the insurer’s positions are usually wrong. The jury will be instructed pursuant to Vehicle Code section 21801(a), which provides: “The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left or to complete a U-turn upon a highway, or to turn left into public or private property, or an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching from the opposite direction which are close enough to constitute a hazard at any time during the turning movement, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to the approaching vehicles until the left turn or U-turn can be made with reasonable safety.”
Subdivision (b) provides, “(b) A driver having yielded as prescribed in subdivision (a), and having given a signal when and as required by this code, may turn left or complete a U-turn, and the drivers of vehicles approaching the intersection or the entrance to the property or alley from the opposite direction shall yield the right-of-way to the turning vehicle.”
CACI No. 704 states: “The statute just read to you uses the word ‘hazard.’ A ‘hazard’ exists if . . . any approaching vehicle is so near or is approaching so fast that a reasonably careful person would realize that there is a danger of a collision or accident.”
The corollary instruction given is: “A person must drive at a reasonable speed. Whether a particular speed is reasonable depends on the circumstances such as traffic, weather, visibility and road conditions. Drivers must not drive so fast that they create a danger to people or property.”
In In re Kirk (1962) 202 Cal.App.2d 288 (Kirk) (1962) 202 Cal.App.2d 288, a driver, Karen, was making a left-hand turn. There were two opposing lanes of traffic and the driver in the number one lane motioned for her to go ahead and make her left turn. However, a car was approaching in the number two lane and Karen collided with that vehicle. The issue in Kirk was whether Karen had failed to properly yield to the approaching vehicle in lane number two.
In Sesler v. Ghumann (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 218 (Sesler), the plaintiff was traveling south when he stopped his motorcycle in a left turn lane and waited for traffic to clear in the three oncoming lanes; the cars in oncoming lanes numbers one and two stopped and motioned for the plaintiff to proceed with his left-hand turn in front of them. Seeing no hazard in lane number three, the plaintiff commenced his turn; but the defendant, who had been traveling north in lane number one, had moved to lane number three to avoid the cars he saw stopped in front of him and he collided with the plaintiff in the intersection. The issue on appeal was whether the motorist who waived the plaintiff to commence his turn dictates that the waiver applies to any other motorist.
Both Sesler and Kirk reached the following conclusion, “[Vehicle Code] [s]ection 21801, subdivision (a) has been construed to mean that ‘if the oncoming vehicle in the lane closest to the left turning vehicle surrenders its right of way by indicating to the operator of the left turning vehicle that it desires him to proceed, such operator may not proceed beyond that first lane of traffic, now effectively blocked by the waiving vehicle, if in fact other vehicles approaching in any of the other oncoming lanes will constitute a hazard to the left turning vehicle during the turning movement. [Citation.] Pursuant to subdivision (b) of section 21801, the burden shifts to oncoming traffic to yield the right-of-way to the left-turning driver only where the left-turning driver has complied with section 21801, subdivision (a) but is forced to stop midturn for some reason beyond the driver’s control.”
In Gilmer v. Ellington (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 190, 195 (Gilmer), the court found the following rules applied to left-hand turns, pursuant to Sesler, Kirk, and Vehicle Code section 21801 “(1) approaching vehicles in oncoming traffic that are close enough to constitute a hazard to a left-turning vehicle, have the right-of-way over that left-turning vehicle; (2) a left-turning driver has a duty to ascertain whether an approaching vehicle constitutes a hazard and, if so, to yield the right-of-way to that approaching vehicle; (3) such duty continues throughout the turning maneuver and applies to each approaching vehicle in each successive lane of oncoming traffic; and (4) even where the driver of an approaching vehicle yields its right-of-way, the left-turning driver has a continuing duty to anticipate that other drivers will not yield their right-of-way; i.e., the left-turning driver may not treat one driver’s yielding as a yielding of the right-of-way of any other approaching vehicle.” ” (Gilmer, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at 198.)
Based on the above case law and jury instructions, you can see how difficult it is to relieve a left turner of liability. At Barry P. Goldberg in Woodland Hills, we look for video from surrounding businesses and witnesses to determine both speed and whether a driver ran a red light to cause the collision. Our office routinely disregards the insurers’ evaluation of comparative fault if our client did nothing wrong and was fault free. The response we give, “We will let a jury decide!”