Friday, October 19, 2012

Bjorndal v. Weitman case brief

Bjorndal v. Weitman (2008)
184 P.3d 1115

Procedural History
•    Plaintiff (leading) brought a negligence suit against defendant (following driver), seeking damages for her injuries and medical expenses arising out of their automobile collision. The following driver’s request that the “emergency instruction” under Or. Unif. Jury Instructions Civ. 20.08 be given was granted, and the jury returned a special verdict in favor of the following driver. The leading driver sought review.

•    is the “emergency instruction” an appropriate test in tort/negligence?

•    No, The usual instruction on negligence sufficiently covers what a reasonably prudent person would do under all circumstances, including those of sudden emergency.

•    The existence of “emergency” circumstances in vehicle accident cases (sudden actions by other drivers, unexpected weather events, roadway hazards) is indisputably appropriate for a jury to consider in determining whether a person has used reasonable care in attempting to avoid harming others. The negligence standard focuses on whether a person acted with reasonable care to avoid harm to others, in light of all the circumstances, including any “emergency.”
•    The emergency instruction, as used in vehicle accident cases, misstates the law of negligence by introducing an inquiry respecting whether a person has made the “wisest choice,” rather than focusing on whether the person used reasonable care, given all the circumstances. Because the instruction misstates the law, it should not be given.
•    To be sure, the reasonable care standard does not always require a defendant to make the “wisest choice.” But neither does it mean that a defendant was “not negligent” simply because the defendant’s “unwise choice” was made in the context of an emergency.
•    Thus, the general negligence standard embodied in Uniform Civil Jury Instruction 20.02 encompasses any legitimate concerns about “emergency” circumstances,  [**1121]  without introducing misleading concepts of the extent to which a “choice” available to the person was “unwise,” “wise,” “wiser,” or “wisest.”

•    The rulings of the appellate court and the trial court were reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Court’s Reasoning/Rationale/Policy
•    The court wanted to get rid of that test because it allowed the jury to favor those who didn’t make a “wise choice” etc.

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