Fatal Intersection Collision in South Los Angeles Raises Multiple Liability Questions

A serious hit-and-run car crash killed an Uber driver and seriously injured her passenger.

52-year-old Folesha Parker Iverson was carrying a passenger in her black Honda Accord at the intersection of West Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Arlington Avenue when a silver Infinity driver — whose name was not released — apparently ran a red light and collided with the Accord; the Infinity driver evidently tried to flee the scene on foot before being detained by witnesses. Ms. Iverson was declared dead at the scene; first responders used the Jaws of Life to extricate her passenger from the wreckage, and he was promptly rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries. 

A friend said Ms. Iverson was a high school guidance counselor who drove for Uber and Lyft on the side, and that her family was “overwhelmingly distraught” over her death.

Hit and Run Crashes

The statistics are a little different almost everywhere, but authorities apprehend about 50 percent of hit-and-run drivers. Regardless of this outcome, victims have legal options for recovery in these cases.

Many times, a victim/plaintiff’s attorney will partner with a private investigator to tentatively identify the hit-and-run driver. There are several reasons that such an arrangement is often successful.

  • Primarily, first responders must care for injured victims and secure the scene. Collecting evidence is a much lower priority, and even then, first responders have absolutely no interest in building a future civil court case.
  • Private investigators usually can devote more time to these matters, so they will canvas the area for additional witnesses and turn over stones that busy first responders may not have even noticed.
  • Most importantly, victim/plaintiffs need only establish facts by a preponderance of the evidence (“more likely than not”) whereas prosecutors must establish facts beyond a reasonable doubt. So, in civil court, evidence that the defendant owned the vehicle is probably enough for a jury to conclude that, more likely than not, the defendant was driving the vehicle at the time.

In addition to compensatory damages for economic and noneconomic losses, juries often order hit-and-run drivers to pay additional punitive damages. This money is designed to deter any future wrongdoing and punish the tortfeasor for his or her intentional neglect of a certain responsibility, viz, the legal and moral duty to remain at the scene of a collision.

Even if the tortfeasors aren’t sufficiently identified, attorneys can help victims file claims with their own insurance companies. In the unlikely event such cases do not settle on plaintiff-friendly terms, they are usually resolved by binding arbitration instead of jury trials.

Liability in Intersection Collisions

Running a red light is a clear violation of Vehicle Code 21453(a), and as a result, violators are negligent as a matter of law, unless a defense applies, because of the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) doctrine. This rule applies if the tortfeasor violated a safety statute and that violation substantially caused the harm. The time-saving negligence per se shortcut means that victim/plaintiffs only need to prove two elements by a preponderance of the evidence as opposed to the five elements of a traditional negligence case.

Although there are almost no defenses to running a red light, except perhaps in an extreme emergency situation, the “substantial factor” prong is often an issue, particularly in intersection collision cases. According to the last clear chance rule, victims essentially have a duty to avoid car accidents if reasonably possible by changing lanes or making other evasive maneuvers. As an example, the above-described wreck occurred int he overnight hours when traffic was probably very light, so at least arguably, the Uber driver should have seen the Infinity driver coming and reacted accordingly.

For this rule to apply, the victims must have the last clear chance to avoid the accident, which is not the same thing as the last possible chance.

Third Party Liability

Uber drivers and other operators who transport people for fees are common carriers in California, which means they have a higher duty of care than non-commercial drivers. This higher duty of care make the last clear chance rule’s applicability even more likely, especially if the injured passenger were later to sue Uber under a third party liability theory.

The applicable doctrine in such cases is usually the respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) rule. It applies if the tortfeasor was:

  • An employee who
  • Was acting within the course and scope of employment.

Most courts define “employee” very broadly in negligence contexts to include not only statutory employees but also unpaid volunteers, independent contractors, and anyone else whom the employer controls, at least to some extent. Similarly, any employee performing a service that benefits the employer in any way is usually acting within the course and scope of employment. In fact, in some workers’ compensation cases, courts have held that participants in company softball games are acting within the course and scope of employment, because the employer benefits from having healthy and happy employees.

Even seemingly straightforward car crash cases often involve complex legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, contact Citywide Law Group. Attorneys can ensure victims receive ongoing medical treatment, even if they have no money and no insurance.

Citywide Law Group
12424 Wilshire Blvd Suite 705
Los Angeles, CA 90025
https://www.citywidelaw.com