Legal Question in Traffic Law in California

Parked car hit - whose at fault

I was parked on the street in front of my home. I gathered my belongings and checked my rear view mirror as I began to unlatch my door. There was a car coming about 300 yards away. My door was held against my leg as I waited for the car to pass. The car nicked the bottom of my car door and ripped the outside paneling off. The driver was a very elderly woman who did not speak much english.I called my insurance company and took pictures. Months later I got a letter from my insurance saying that an arbitrator found me at fault. I asked my insurance person if she could send me a cory of the report so I could see why they decided the way they did. Instead, she looked up statements for me. The old lady said that I was standing next to my car with my door completely open into traffic. My question: This seems like a my word against her word issue. Why do I have to prove her wrong? How could I have lost this case? Also, is there a California law about who would be at fault in a situation like this? All the DMV books etc that I have reviewed only warn drivers to beware of parked cars but they say nothing about fault.

Asked on 4/24/02, 5:36 pm

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1 Answer from Attorneys

Jacqueline Goodman Rubio Law Offices of Jacqueline Goodman Rubio
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Re: Parked car hit - who's at fault

The problem seems to be the factual question of how far your door was protruding into the traffic lane. In a civil case (which this is), the burden of persuation/proof is different that in a criminal case. In a civil case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving only by a preponderance of the evidence (just a hair over 50%) that (s)he is right or truthful. In this case, the arbitrator found-- and maybe not by much at all -- that you were the one whose negligence caused the damage. In other words, the arbitrator had to have believed that it was more likely that if you had exercised reasonable care not to open your door into the traffic lane, she would not have hit it. I don't hold that belief, but that is the way the fact-finder ruled. You have recourse. You can challenge the arbitrator's finding. You can go to trial (unless you agreed to binding arbitration).

There is no law exactly on point that I am aware of. You can search the California Vehicle Code (any law library or online) to make sure I'm correct. However, the general law of negligence and right-of-way govern here. She had the right-of-way. You had a duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure that you did not encroach into her roadway. She had a duty to exercise reasonable care to drive with caution and stay clear of parked cars. The question of who acted negligently is a factual one.

Good luck. If you have further questions, feel free to call me at (714)879-5770.

Kindest regards,

JACQUELINE GOODMAN RUBIO

Attorney at Law

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4/25/02, 2:00 am

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