California Court of Appeals, Second District, Sixth Division
Superior Court County of Ventura No. 56-2011-00391849-CU-PA-VTA Rebecca Riley, Judge
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Law Offices of John H. Howard, John H. Howard, Gregory Phillips; Ferguson, Case, Orr, Patterson, Wendy C. Lascher and John A. Hirbar for Plaintiffs and Appellants.
Horvitz & Levy, Lisa Perrochet and Emily V. Cuatto; and Mark G Cunningham, for Defendants and Respondents.
We have previously commented on the well-known rules attendant to the review of orders granting and denying a motion for a new trial, in both the civil and criminal contexts. (Baker v American Horticulture Supply, Inc., (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th 1059, 1067-1068 [111 Cal.Rptr.3d 695]; People v. Andrade (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 651, 661 [94 Cal.Rptr.2d 314].) Generally speaking, the rules are designed to affirm the trial court's ruling. This is the rare case where we reverse an order denying a motion for new trial. We caution that not every legal mistake or unsound course of reasoning will inexorably result in reversal of an order denying a motion for new trial. Where, as here, the legal error strikes at the heart of the motion for new trial, we are compelled to reverse.
Joshua David and Natalie Pierson appeal from the judgment entered in favor of David Hernandez and D & H Trucking, respondents. Appellants brought a negligence action against respondents. The action arose out of a collision between appellants' vehicle and Hernandez's truck. The jury returned a special verdict finding that Hernandez was negligent but that his negligence was not a substantial factor in causing harm to appellants. Appellants contend that the verdict is fatally inconsistent because "a finding of causation flows automatically from the negligence finding." Appellants also contend that the evidence is insufficient to support the jury's finding that Hernandez's negligence was not a substantial factor. Finally, appellants argue that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to grant their motion for a new trial. We conclude that the verdict is not fatally inconsistent and that the evidence is not insufficient. As indicated, we reverse the order denying the motion for a new trial.
"Following well-established rules on appellate review after a trial on the merits, we construe the facts in the light most favorable to the judgment. [Citation.]" (Hub City Solid Waste Services, Inc. v. City of Compton (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th 1114, 1119 [112 Cal.Rptr.3d 647]; see People v. Dement (2011) 53 Cal.4th 1, 7, fn. 3 [133 Cal.Rptr.3d 496, 264 P.3d 292] [" 'In light of the sufficiency of the evidence contentions that follow, we set forth the facts here in the light most favorable to the judgment' "].)
Hernandez was an independent trucker with more than 30 years of experience as a truck driver. On June 28, 2010, he was driving a "big rig"
(hereafter truck) consisting of a tractor and a flatbed trailer. He was transporting bags of cement from Sun Valley to Santa Barbara.
While driving northbound on Pacific Coast Highway, Hernandez decided to stop for a rest break. The highway at that point has two lanes, one lane in each direction. Hernandez did not park on the right side of the northbound lane because there were "no parking" signs and the shoulder was not wide enough to accommodate his truck. He activated his left-turn signal and drove across the southbound lane into a parking area adjacent to that lane. He "pulled over and stopped" in the parking area, which was next to the beach. Hernandez's truck was headed north toward oncoming southbound traffic. A bike lane and a "no parking" lane separated the parking area from the southbound lane. Appendix A, which is attached to this opinion, is a to scale drawing that shows the "asphalt paved parking area" as well as the bike lane and "no parking" lane. The drawing was made by a licensed land surveyor.
Hernandez took a nap. When he awoke, he decided to continue driving northbound on Pacific Coast Highway. Since it was dusk, he turned on all of the truck's lights, including his "flashers." Hernandez explained that "[t]he flashers are the turn signals." He drove his tractor into the middle of the bike and "no parking" lanes and came to a complete stop. Hernandez did not see any traffic, so he drove across the southbound lane and made a left turn into the northbound lane of Pacific Coast Highway. When Hernandez entered the southbound lane, he was driving at a speed of between 10 and 12 miles per hour. He "veer[ed] to the right" so he could "get [his] whole vehicle into the northbound lane" as quickly as possible.
Upon entering the northbound lane, Hernandez saw the headlights of a vehicle traveling toward him in the southbound lane. He estimated that the vehicle was approximately 500 feet away. After checking his mirrors, Hernandez noticed that the vehicle was only 100 to 125 feet away. At that time his tractor was totally in the northbound lane. The end of the trailer, however, was in the southbound lane. To no avail, Hernandez blinked his headlights and sounded his horn. The vehicle collided with the left side of the end of the trailer, which was still in the southbound lane. The point of impact was approximately 65 feet from the front of the truck. The vehicle was traveling within the speed limit at about 45 miles per hour when it struck the trailer.
Appellant David was the driver of the vehicle. Appellant Pierson was seated in the front passenger seat. David and Pierson were 18 years old. Shortly before the collision, Pierson asked David if he wanted to listen to music. David replied, "[S]ure." Pierson intended to play music on David's laptop computer. She put the laptop on her lap and opened it, but the power would not turn on. She closed the laptop and placed it on the floor. Pierson
looked up and saw a bright light in the northbound lane. She turned to look at David and "saw his eyes get wide." Pierson "saw something really dark" ahead of the vehicle, saw David "begin to turn the wheel, " and "then the crash happened."
David has no recollection of the collision. The last thing he remembered was that Pierson had brought his laptop "up from the floor" and was "opening it up" so that they could listen to music. There was no evidence that David had applied the brakes before the collision. (In their opening brief, appellants acknowledge that David "did not brake.") Respondent's accident reconstruction expert testified that he "didn't see any evidence... that would indicate what's called an evasive maneuver by the driver of the [vehicle]." The expert continued: "[B]ased on the information that we have and all the data, it was literally drive, drive, drive, bang."
The collision occurred at approximately 8:39 p.m., "four minutes before the end of civil twilight" and 25 minutes after sunset. Respondents' expert testified that, until the end of civil twilight, "it's generally judged that you can conduct ordinary activities outdoors without the need for artificial illumination." "[O]nce you get to the end of civil twilight, it starts to get dark pretty fast." But "there's still lots of light after the end of civil twilight." The expert opined that, at four minutes before the end of civil twilight, a person would be able to see the outlines of trucks "and also even color."
On May 31, 2012, respondents' expert participated in an accident reconstruction at the location of the collision. He testified that, at four minutes before civil twilight on May 31, 2012 (8:29 p.m.), "there was definitely enough light to see vehicles, distinguish objects. It was pretty evident." At the time of the collision on June 28, 2010, visibility was good to excellent, and the conditions were "substantially similar" at the time of the accident reconstruction. Another expert who had participated in the accident reconstruction opined that, even if the lights on Hernandez's ...