A “Rules of the Road” Analysis Determines Outcome in Cotton Valley Negligence Case

When traffic accidents occur, courts must examine the basic “rules of the road” that govern drivers’ conduct in determining fault. The violation of a traffic regulation is a frequently-used basis for finding that a driver was negligent when the violation results in a crash.

The case of Dyck v. Maddry, 81 So.2d 165, 167 (La. App. 2 Cir. 1955), was one such case where the court referred to basic traffic rules in determining fault. On the evening of June 2, 1954, Ms. Gladys Maddry was driving her Chevrolet coupe south on State Highway 90 just outside of Cotton Valley. Mr. Elmer Dyck approached Highway 90 from a street that intersected but did not cross it, thus forming a “T” intersection. The intersecting street was marked with a stop sign, while traffic on Highway 90 had the right-of-way. Mr. Dyck testified that he approached Highway 90, stopped at the intersection, and after confirming there were no oncoming vehicles, proceeded to make a left turn onto the highway. After he had traveled about 90 feet south of the intersection, Mr. Dyck’s car was struck from the rear and overturned by Ms. Maddry’s automobile. Ms. Maddry testified that Mr. Dyck drove suddenly into her path and that she immediately applied her brakes to try to avoid the collision.

At trial, the court found that both Mr. Dyck and Ms. Maddry were contributorily negligent and denied their claims against each other. The Court of Appeal upheld the findings of the trial court. Regarding Ms. Maddry’s negligence, the court noted that Louisiana law

prohibits the operator of any vehicle upon the highways of this state from driving at other than reasonable and proper speed under the circumstances. A driver shall at all times be on the alert, steadily watch road conditions ahead as they are revealed, and keep his vehicle under such control and maintain such speed as is commensurate with circumstances, and the greater the known hazard the greater should be the degree of care exercised. (Dyck, 81 So.2d at 167)

Accordingly, the court determined that Ms. Maddry’s speed was “excessive and unlawful and was a contributing and concurrent cause of the accident.” It also concluded that Mr. Dyck’s left turn onto Highway 90 “was accompanied with negligence which also was a concurrent and contributory factor to the mishap.” This finding was based on further review of Louisiana law which states “a motorist intending to execute a left turn in an intersection must initially ascertain by careful observation that the maneuver can be executed safely.” Further, the court determined that

the rule is well settled to the effect that a motorist who merely stops before attempting to enter a right-of-way thoroughfare has only performed one-half the duty resting upon him. To stop and then proceed without ascertaining if it is safe to do so is negligence of a gross character and renders the driver guilty of negligence. (81 So.2d at 167)

Courts continue to rely on a “back to basics” approach when assessing the liability of parties involved in automobile accidents, so drivers must remain keenly aware of their obligations to operate their cars safely under the law.