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Negligence Per Se in Texas Bicycle Accident

the-crash-996215-mIn the recent appellate case of United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Rankin, the plaintiff and his family sued UPS and one of its drivers. The case arose when the driver parked his UPS vehicle in front of a house to make a delivery on his normal route. He intended to park briefly and left the vehicle partly in a lane of traffic with the hazard lights on. The view was unobstructed for 2,000 feet, but the vehicle was brown and stopped under a tree with brown leaves against the backdrop of a brown hill.

The plaintiff was traveling home by bike and rode into the back of the parked UPS vehicle and suffered severe injuries. He didn’t remember what happened, and the driver testified he didn’t see the accident. When the police came, the hazard lights of the UPS vehicle were still flashing. The plaintiff told the police he didn’t see the vehicle when he rode into it.

At trial, a police officer testified that the plaintiff had a duty to look for vehicles, and there was enough space for him to ride around the vehicle. The police officer didn’t charge the driver with illegal parking.

Due to the accident, the plaintiff became a partial quadriplegic. He and his family sued for negligence. At trial, the jury was instructed on both negligence and negligence per se. In Texas, parking laws differ based on whether you’re parked in what’s called a “residence district.” Under Texas Transportation Code § 545.301, parking is prohibited unless certain exceptions apply. Accordingly, the jury was asked whether the UPS vehicle was stopped or parked in a residence district.

The jury answered that it was parked in a residence district. The jury was also instructed that, under the law, you can’t stop and park a vehicle on the main part of a highway outside a residence district unless it’s impracticable to stop and park off the traveled part, the width of highway is unobstructed so vehicles can go by, and the vehicle is clearly viewable for at least 200 feet in each direction. It was also instructed that, if the driver didn’t comply with this law, the lack of compliance was negligence per se.

The jury found that the driver was negligent per se, but that the plaintiff was also negligent. The jury found both the plaintiff and defendant 50% responsible for the accident and determined $7 million in damages. The plaintiff’s wife was awarded almost $1 million for loss of household services and loss of consortium.

UPS appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that the parking was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. It argued the only reasonable inference was that the plaintiff’s own negligence in not looking where he was going was the sole proximate cause for his injuries.

The appellate court disagreed with UPS. It found the evidence sufficient to support the jury’s determination that both parties’ negligent acts were proximate causes of the accident. It reasoned that it was undisputed the UPS driver could have pulled off the road completely, and that he had parked illegally. The plaintiff had explained that as a cyclist, he rode close to the side of the road in order to be safe and to be courteous on a street with a 45-mph speed limit. The Court affirmed the ruling.

If you’re hurt in a bicycle accident or another kind of accident for which you believe the government may be responsible, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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