Thursday, July 23, 2020

Theory of "Wave-on Liability" in Car Accident Case Allowed to Proceed to Jury

In the case of McLaughlin v. Caban, No. 2017-CV-5303 (C.P. Lacka. Co. June 24, 2020 Gibbons, J.), Judge James A. Gibbons of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by a Defendant driver in a motor vehicle accident case in which the Defendant driver asserted that there was no causal connection between her actions and the subject accident based upon this Defendant allegedly waved to the Plaintiff to proceed out of a parking lot at which point there was an accident between the Plaintiff's vehicle and a third vehicle. 

The court noted that the Plaintiff’s claim against the Defendant filing the Motion for Summary Judgment was based on a theory of “wave-on liability.” The Plaintiff alleged that the waving Defendant’s negligence included failing to confirm that the roadway was clear before indicating to the Plaintiff to proceed, failing to warn the Plaintiff of any oncoming traffic, and improperly waving another driver to proceed into the roadway when it was not safe to proceed. 

The Defendant who waved the Plaintiff to proceed filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that the Plaintiff’s theory of liability failed because the Plaintiff’s deposition testimony confirmed that the Plaintiff interpreted the Defendant’s wave to mean only that the Defendant who waved would stop to allow the Plaintiff to proceed out of the parking lot and did not signify anything else. In other words, the Defendant who waved asserted in the motion that the Plaintiff never relied upon the Defendant’s waving as an indication that no other traffic was approaching. 

Judge Gibbons reviewed the law in Pennsylvania on the liability of a signaling motorist under §324A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965) and the case law thereunder. That section of the Restatement is entitled “Liability to Third Person for Negligent Performance of Undertaking” basically holds that one who assumes the act, even gratuitously, may thereby become subject to the duty of acting carefully. 

The court noted the central issue in this context is for the jury to determine the meaning of the signal in question. The court noted that it is the duty of the jury to determine if the signally driver’s action was something other than a mere courtesy or a yielding of the right-of-way based upon the facts alleged. Where issues in this regard are in dispute, the case must be left for the juror’s consideration. 

Judge Gibbons also noted that a court could find that a causal connection between the signal and the injury does not exist at the summary judgment stage only where it is clearly and unequivocally stated that the Defendant waver’s signal was interpreted only to mean that that Defendant would remain stopped so that the other driver could proceed and that the Plaintiff never relied upon the signal as an indication that no other traffic was approaching. 

Here, the court reviewed the testimony of the parties and found that issues of fact remained on the questions presented. As such, the court denied the Motion for Summary Judgment and allowed the issue to proceed to trial. 

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

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