Li v. Yellow Cab Co. of California – (Comparative Negligence)
Li v. Yellow Cab Co. of California, 13 Cal.3d 804, 119 Cal.Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226 (1975)
BY: James F. Polk – AISOL YEAR ONE STUDENT
Facts & History:
- Li driving on Alvarado Street in Los Angeles
- Li stopped short of an intersection to turn left into a gas station.
- To enter the gas station Li had to cross 3 lanes of oncoming traffic.
- As Li turned a Yellow Cab struck her car.
- Li injured and Li’s car was damaged.
- Li sued for negligence.
- Trial Court found that the Taxi was: 1. traveling at an unsafe speed and 2. passed through the intersection when the light was yellow.
- Trial Court simultaneously found that Li’s decision to turn left into oncoming traffic created a hazard.
- Rule at the time was a Contributory Negligence rule where a Plaintiff was barred from recovery if they contributed any negligence to the situation that was a proximate cause of their injury.
- Trial Court therefore entered a Judgment in favor of the Defendant Yellow Cab barring Li’s Claim.
- Li appealed to the CA Supreme Court.
- The Appeals Court dealt with whether they should abandon the all or nothing contributory negligence rule for a comparative negligence rule.
Issue: If the Defendant’s Negligence and the Plaintiff’s Negligence combine to injure the Plaintiff can the Plaintiff still recover damages or is the Plaintiff barred from recovery?
Rule: The Court’s answer was that the rule in the State of California should be Comparative Negligence and that they should abandon the traditional Comparative Negligence rule.
Application: Justice Sullivan Opined that the slight negligence of a Plaintiff should not bar them from recovery but should simply reduce their recovery in proportion to their degree of fault.
Conclusion: Contributory Negligence was abandoned for Comparative Negligence because the system was harsh and unfair and barred Plaintiffs from recovering even if they were only slightly at fault. The trend in other States was already to reject the all or nothing Contributory Negligence approach for the Comparative Negligence approach. The Court adopted a Pure Comparative Negligence System in which Liability is Assessed in Proportion to each party’s fault.
Yellow Cab’s arguments were rejected that: 1. the Legislature should decide on a move away from Contributory Negligence towards Comparative Negligence, 2. that it was impractical and would complicate multiparty cases.
The CA Court also decided that the new rule of Comparative Negligence would be applied retroactively to cases that had not started trial before the Court’s Decision became Final. If a trial had started before the decision was final then Contributory Negligence would apply unless the case was Reversed and Remanded.
Li being the party who brought the appeal could take advantage of the new Comparative Negligence Rule because it was consistent with past cases to apply the rule of an appeals case.
Court Reversed the Trial Court Ruling.
Mosk Concurring and Dissenting, concurred that the Appellant should be able to take advantage of the rule change, but that it was not consistent to do so based on past cases and that would be an overruling of an issue not dealt with in the case.
Clark Dissented, opining that the decision to move from Contributory Negligence to Comparative Negligence should be made by the Legislature.