truckShould the duty of drivers to exercise ordinary care for others in their use of streets and highways include truck drivers parked alongside a freeway? The Supreme Court of California’s recent decision in Cabral v. Ralphs Grocery Company (Feb. 28, 2011) No  S178799, concerning an automobile/truck accident found no exception for truck drivers.

The truck driver working for Ralphs Grocery (Ralphs) parked his tractor-trailer rig along side an interstate highway in order to have a snack. Cabral’s husband, decedent Adelelmo Cabral, driving his pickup truck home from work veered suddenly off the freeway and collided at high speed with the rear of the stopped trailer and was killed instantly. The jury in the trial court found both the decedent and the Ralphs driver to have been negligent, but allocated 90% of the fault to the decedent and 10% to the Ralphs driver. The trial court entered judgment on the San Bernardino County wrongful death  jury verdict.

Ralphs appealed the trial court’s verdict to the Fourth District Court of Appeal who reversed, holding that Ralphs had no legal duty to avoid a collision between a negligent driver and Ralphs stopped truck.

The California Supreme Court reversed and analyzed criteria set down by it in 1968 under the case of Rowland v. Christian, 69 Cal.2d 108, that established certain exceptions to the general duty rule. The court analyzed foreseeability in finding a duty and followed the general rule in California that everyone is responsible for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill. Ralphs had argued that for an accident to be considered foreseeable, there must be “evidence of specific circumstances that make an accident in a particular place likely to happen.” The court disagreed. The court concluded that the foreseeability question for duty purposes is not whether the truck driver could have reasonably foreseen an accident at the exact spot along the highway, but whether it is generally foreseeable that a vehicle stopped along side a freeway may be hit by one departing out of control from the road.

This decision upholds the general rule that all drivers owe each other a duty of care, even when parked on the side of the road.