Is the trial court's denial of new trial, reversible because appellant court finds court's express statement of reasons for denial legally inconsistent, even though absent that statement the judgment would have been affirmed?
One lesson I learned from 29 years on the bench was to take care not to say too much when making a ruling. This can be difficult, because conscientious people tend to explain the reasoning behind a conclusion reached. David v. Hernandez (filed 5/22/14) 2d Civil No. B245342 demonstrates the trouble with saying too much.
Hernandez was a truck driver headed northbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when he decided to pull off of the highway to park. Because there was no available parking on the right side of the road, he made a left turn into a parking area adjacent to the southbound lane. After taking a nap, he started driving again, stopping short of the southbound lane, checking that there was no immediate traffic, and proceeding to start his left turn into the northbound lane. The time was 8:39 p.m., four minutes before the end of civil twilight and 25 minutes after sunset. Hernandez' vehicle made it into the northbound lane, but the end of the attached trailer was still a bit in the southbound lane when struck by plaintiff David's vehicle. David had no recollection of the collision; his passenger saw a dark obstruction in their lane of traffic, saw David react, and then the crash happened. Just before the collision, she and David wanted to listen to music on her laptop, but she could not get the power to work.
David and his passenger sued for negligence. At trial, the jury was instructed on negligence per se, that liability would follow if it found that as a result of a relevant statutory violation, which was a substantial factor in causing harm, plaintiffs were injured. The violations claimed included parking on and re-entering the roadway from the wrong side of the highway, including failing to yield the right-of-way; and failing to properly signal a turning motion. The jury found that Hernandez was negligent, but his negligence was not a substantial factor causing the harm. Plaintiffs' motion for new trial was denied, and plaintiffs appealed on grounds of verdict inconsistency, insufficient evidence, and erroneous denial of motion for new trial. The Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Six, reversed.
In denying the motion for new trial, the trial court had stated that Hernandez violated the Vehicle Code by parking his truck on the wrong side of the highway, and that the tail end of his truck would not have been in the southbound lane of the highway but for his entering the highway from the wrong side; but there was "sufficient evidence through expert testimony that a jury could have found a reasonable driver who was paying attention to his or her driving and the road in front of him or her would have seen the truck bed in their lane in time to take evasive action and that the lack of attention on the part of the plaintiff driver was in fact the cause of the accident."