Most drivers have, at some point, found themselves in the position of sitting at a stop sign and needing to navigate a cross street with stopped traffic. Sometimes, there’s even a “helpful” driver who waves for you to proceed. A woman in that position lost her case before the Louisiana Court of Appeal recently because she did not exercise the required degree of caution before crossing an intersection. The decision highlights that an anonymous driver’s waving does not diminish the level of care that the law requires of drivers at stop signs.
The accident that led to the lawsuit occurred at an intersection of two city streets in Monroe. Betty Blount was driving on North 8th Street and was stuck at the intersection of 8th and Louisville Avenue. As a result of another accident, traffic on Louisville was stopped in the outer lane. After spending several minutes waiting at the intersection, both Blount and her passenger, Joseph Solomon, saw a driver in the outer westbound Louisville lanes wave them through. Blount entered the intersection and was struck by a different driver, Sarah Tugwell, who was in the inner westbound lane.
Blount and Solomon sued Tugwell. Both Blount and Solomon testified about the anonymous driver who waved Blount through and about Tugwell’s darting around that driver when she hit Blount. Tugwell testified that she did not change lanes, that she was not speeding, and that Blount ran the stop sign at 8th and Louisville. The Monroe police corporal who responded to the accident found that the scene was consistent with Tugwell’s story and ticketed Blount for failure to yield. Nevertheless, the trial court found Tugwell 80% at fault and awarded damages to Blount and Solomon totaling more than $8,300.
Tugwell appealed that decision, and she won. The law only allows drivers at a stop sign to proceed if the way is clear, and, even then, the driver must advance with “extraordinary caution.” There is, however, a legal concept known as the “doctrine of preemption” that says that, if a driver at a stop sign kept an appropriate lookout and safely entered the intersection, another driver without a stop sign may be held liable if that second driver should or could have avoided the collision by using due diligence.
The trial court should not have applied the doctrine of preemption to Blount and Solomon’s case. There was no evidence that the anonymous driver, who was in the outside westbound lane on Louisville, checked (or even could see) whether the inside lane was clear to allow Blount a safe entry. Blount also could not see whether both lanes were sufficiently clear to allow her to proceed safely.
The evidence in the case indicated that Blount had not “established herself in the traffic flow crossing Louisville to the extent that the oncoming traffic” such as Tugwell “had an obligation to exercise due care to avoid a collision.” Advancing into the intersection based solely upon being waved through by an anonymous driver did not constitute the level of “extraordinary caution” required by the law. Regardless of whether Tugwell had been in the inside lane the whole time or had changed lanes shortly before reaching 8th Street, she had the right of way. There was not sufficient evidence to show that preemption should apply in favor of Blount, and the trial court was wrong to assign any blame to Tugwell.
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More Blog Posts:
Louisiana Jury Entitled to Rule Against Injured Driver Despite Multiple Doctors’ Testimony at Trial, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Aug. 28, 2015
Proving Causation in Your Louisiana Auto Accident Injury Case, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, May 11, 2015