Nga Li v. Yellow Cab Company of California Case Brief

Summary of Nga Li v. Yellow Cab Company of California, et al., 13 Cal. 3d 804; 532 P.2d 1226; Supreme Court of California [1975]

Facts: At approximately 9 p.m. on November 21, 1968, plaintiff Nga Li was driving northbound on a street in Los Angeles. She was driving on the inside lane and about 70 feet before she reached the intersection, she stopped to begin a left turn, intending to cross the three southbound lanes of the street and enter a gas station.

At that time, defendant Robert Phillips, a taxi driver employed by defendant Yellow Cab Company, was driving southbound in the middle lane of the same street as plaintiff. He came over the hill, passed through the intersection, and collided with the right rear portion of plaintiff Li’s vehicle, causing personal injuries to plaintiff as well as considerable damage to her vehicle.

The court found [without a jury] that defendant Phillips was traveling approximately 30 miles per hour when he entered the intersection, that the light was yellow when he entered, and that his speed was unsafe at that particular time and place. It was also found that plaintiff’s left turn across the southbound lanes of the street “was made at a time when a vehicle was approaching from the opposite direction so close as to constitute an immediate hazard." Therefore, it was found that plaintiff was contributorily negligent.

History: The trial court found for the defendant on the grounds that California was a contributory negligence jurisdiction, barring recovery by plaintiff based upon her contributory negligence. Plaintiff appealed.

Issue: Should California adopt the doctrine of comparative negligence and allow the plaintiff to recover damages?

Ruling: Yes. The Supreme Court of California reversed the trial court’s judgment and held that California should adopt the “pure" form of comparative negligence, rather than the harsh doctrine of contributory negligence.

Rule/Analysis: Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, if plaintiff is negligent in any manner whatsoever to her own injury, it’s a complete bar to recovery. Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, the liability is assessed directly in proportion to fault. Therefore, under comparative negligence, plaintiff would be able to recover damages, less the amount for which she was liable.

Summary: The California Supreme Court felt that the “all or nothing" rule of contributory negligence should be replaced by the more “just" doctrine of comparative negligence. Under the new doctrine, defendant would be liable for his portion of fault.

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