In Daisy v. Yost, the plaintiff and the defendant got into a car crash in North Carolina. At trial, the evidence showed that the plaintiff came up to an intersection at the posted speed limit. He was planning to drive straight. The defendant came to the intersection from the opposite direction, planning to turn left across the plaintiff’s path.
When the plaintiff came to the intersection, the light had changed to yellow. The defendant’s light was changing from a flashing yellow arrow to a solid yellow arrow, and she was in the left turn lane. The plaintiff kept driving straight through the intersection, just as the defendant turned left. The defendant’s car hit the side of the plaintiff’s car so that the plaintiff’s car was pushed into a light post.
The plaintiff sued for his injuries and property damage and asked for a directed verdict on the issue of contributory negligence. His motion was denied, and the case was sent to a jury. The jury found that the defendant’s negligence was the legal cause of the crash, but the plaintiff bore some contributory negligence. Accordingly, the lower court entered judgment for the defendant. The plaintiff moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a new trial, but these motions were denied. He appealed.
The plaintiff argued there was insufficient evidence to support the jury instruction on contributory negligence. The appellate court found that the evidence at trial wasn’t enough to warrant a jury instruction on the issue of contributory negligence and reversed the trial court’s ruling. It explained that contributory negligence is negligence by the plaintiff that combines with the defendant’s negligence to produce an injury to the plaintiff.
The court further explained that a directed verdict on contributory negligence is only appropriate if the evidence taken in the light most favorable to the party not making the motion establishes his negligence so clearly that there is no other inference that could reasonably be drawn. The defendant has to show that the plaintiff failed to use due care and that there was a legal connection between the plaintiff’s failure and the injury. The appellate court explained that if there wasn’t more than a scintilla of evidence to support the defendant’s claim of contributory negligence, the motion should have been granted.
The appellate court reasoned that in this case, the plaintiff was going at the appropriate speed and was only 100 feet from the intersection’s center when he first saw the defendant, and his traffic signal changed to yellow. He couldn’t safely stop before the light turned red and went through the intersection while the light was yellow. The defendant didn’t present any evidence. On appeal, she pointed out that a witness on cross-examination had testified it seemed the plaintiff was driving fast.
The appellate court noted that this witness hadn’t been watching the intersection before the collision and hadn’t seen the plaintiff actually enter the intersection. The testimony was based on how the plaintiff’s car hit the light post after the collision. This was not more than a scintilla. The court also explained that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-155(b) requires a driver turning left to yield the right of way to a car traveling from the opposite direction when it’s so close it’s an immediate danger. The plaintiff was entitled to assume the defendant would follow this law. The jury had determined the defendant’s negligence, so the trial court was directed to enter judgment for the plaintiff for the amount of damages to which they’d stipulated.
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