This is a tort action. The plaintiff, Dixie Drive It Yourself System New Orleans Co., Inc., seeks to recover from the defendants, American Beverage Company and its insurer, Northern Insurance Company of New York, the sum of $2,665.49 for property damage to an International stake-body truck and the loss of income sustained by its withdrawal from use.
In the operation of its business, Dixie leased the truck to Gulf States Screw Products Company. On June 3, 1957, an employee of Gulf, Paul Langtre, was operating it in a southerly direction toward New Orleans on U. S. Highway 61 (the Airline Highway). At about 12:45 p. m. he collided with an R C Cola beverage truck (a tractortrailer type) owned by the defendant, American Beverage Company, and driven by its employee, which was stopped on the highway about three miles north of Kenner.
The highway at this point embraces two roadways divided by a neutral ground. The roadway on each side of the neutral ground consists of two twelve-foot traffic lanes.
It had been raining heavily prior to the collision, and the highway was wet. At the time of the accident, it was drizzling or misting.
Before the collision the R C Cola truck was also proceeding in the direction of New Orleans. A coil wire to the distributor became disconnected and killed the motor. The driver brought the vehicle to a stop in the right-hand traffic lane, leaving a clearance of less than fifteen feet in the left lane. It remained in this position from eight to ten minutes prior to the collision. The driver did not display signal flags on the highway or take any other action to protect approaching traffic.
Langtre, the driver of the Dixie truck, was proceeding in the right-hand lane at a speed of about forty-five miles per hour. His windshield wiper was operating, and his headlights were on. Langtre testified that he was following an unidentified truck which moved into the left lane and passed the R C Cola truck. Two other witnesses did not recall seeing the unidentified truck.
Langtre estimated that he first observed the R C Cola truck at a distance of about a quarter of a block, or about 200 feet. At that time it appeared to him to be moving. When he reached a point estimated by him to be eighty-five feet away, he perceived that it was stationary. He immediately started pulling into the left lane to pass, but was prevented from doing so by an overtaking automobile operated by Dr. Frank B. Wheeler in the left traffic lane at a speed of fifty-five or sixty miles per hour. Langtre applied his brakes, but was unable to avoid colliding with the rear end of the R C Cola truck. Dr. Wheeler, who perceived that the R C Cola truck was stopped at approximately the same time as Langtre, likewise applied his brakes. His automobile crossed the highway and came to rest on the left side of the road.
For recovery the plaintiff relies principally upon the following complaints of negligence against the driver of the obstructing R C Cola truck:
1. Stopping and parking the truck upon the main travelled portion of the highway and leaving less than fifteen feet of the highway unobstructed in violation of LSA-R.S. 32:241.
2. Failing to display signal flags or other warning devices on the highway at a distance of one hundred feet behind and in front of the truck to protect approaching traffic as required by LSA-R.S. 32:442.
The defendants denied that the driver of the R C Cola truck was guilty of any negligence and assert that the sole cause of the accident was the negligence of the driver of the Dixie truck (who is not a party to the suit) in driving at an excessive rate of speed under the prevailing conditions, in failing to keep a proper lookout, and in failing to have his truck under sufficient control to avoid the accident. In the alternative, the defendants contend that the negligence of Langtre is imputable to plaintiff and plead contributory negligence.
The district court rejected the demands of plaintiff. On appeal the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.
The Court of Appeal found that the driver of the obstructing R C Cola truck was negligent in failing to place signal flags behind and in front of the truck as required by LSA-R.S. 32:442 and, for purposes of the decision, in stopping the truck on the main travelled portion of the highway and leaving less than fifteen feet clearance in violation of LSA-R.S. 32:241(A). The court held, however, that the negligence of the driver in these respects was not a proximate cause of the collision. See La.App., 128 So.2d 841.
We granted certiorari to review this judgment.
The principal question presented for decision is whether the driver of the obstructing truck was guilty of negligence and, if so, whether that negligence was a legal cause of the collision.
Preliminarily, we consider the contention that the alleged negligence of the driver of the Dixie truck is imputable to the plaintiff. For this determination it is of importance that the plaintiff had leased the truck to Gulf States Screw Products Company. The vehicle was under the exclusive control of Gulf and was operated by its employee. The relationship between plaintiff and Gulf was one of bailment.
It is well established that the negligence of a bailee cannot be imputed to the bailor.
The Louisiana Highway Regulatory Act imposes upon the driver of a vehicle disabled on the highway a "responsibility to protect traffic",
The evidence in the instant case discloses that the driver of the R C Cola truck stopped it squarely in the lane of traffic. He had a companion in the truck
The statute was designed to protect life and property on the highways. It is a safety measure. The violation of its provisions is negligence per se, and this negligence is actionable if it was a legal cause of the collision.
There is no universal formula for the determination of legal cause. In the instant case it bifurcates into two distinct inquiries: whether the negligence of the obstructing driver was a cause-in-fact of the collision; and whether the defendants should be relieved of liability because of the intervening negligence of the driver of the Dixie truck.
It is clear that more than one legally responsible cause can, and frequently does, contribute to a vehicular collision.
Negligent conduct is a cause-in-fact of harm to another if it was a substantial factor in bringing about that harm.
The evidence discloses that the weather was rainy, and the highway was wet. It was drizzling or misting at the time. Langtre, the driver of the Dixie truck, was using his windshield wiper. He was also driving with his lights on.
Although he had seen the R C Cola truck a moment earlier, he did not perceive that it was stationary until he was rather close to it. He estimated the distance at eighty-five feet. Dr. Wheeler, the other overtaking driver, observed that the truck was stopped at approximately the same time.
Upon first observing that the truck was stationary, Langtre commenced moving into the left lane of traffic to pass the truck. The overtaking automobile of Dr. Wheeler, approaching from the rear in the left lane, thwarted this maneuver and trapped the
Dr. Wheeler, who is conceded to be a disinterested witness, described the critical moment as follows:
"Q. What truck did you say you saw?
"Q. What do you mean by that?
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"Q. You say his vehicle moved back toward the right-hand lane?
"A. I don't recall any.
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Considering the maneuver to the left and the normal reaction time to apply the brakes, we can safely conclude that the estimate of eighty-five feet as the intervening distance at the moment Langtre first noticed the R C Cola truck was stopped is somewhat too short.
We adopt this finding of fact.
The display of the signal flags at a specified distance from the vehicle is designed not only to warn of the presence of a vehicle on the highway, but also to give notice to all approaching traffic that the vehicle
The display of the red signal flag one hundred feet behind the R C Cola truck would have served as an advance warning to both the driver of the Dixie truck and Dr. Wheeler that a stationary vehicle was ahead. Furthermore, the discharge of the driver's responsibility to protect traffic would have of necessity included a hand or other signal at a reasonable distance from the truck, a clear warning of the stationary vehicle. If either or both of the approaching drivers had seen the flag or signal, the accident would have been averted. We can reasonably infer that the collision would not have occurred if the statutory precautions to protect approaching traffic had been taken. The mere possibility that the accident would have occurred despite the required precautions does not break the chain of causation.
We conclude that the negligence of the obstructing driver was a substantial factor in bringing about the collision, or a cause-in-fact.
The inquiry as to whether a defendant should be relieved of liability because of the intervening negligence of another is frequently couched in terms of proximate cause. In the instant case the Court of Appeal concluded that the defendants should be relieved of liability based upon the following statement of law:
The thrust of this formulation of law is toward relieving all but the last wrongdoer of liability to an innocent victim in torts involving intervening negligence. This restrictive doctrine finds little support in legal theory.
The essence of the present inquiry is whether the risk and harm encountered by the plaintiff fall within the scope of protection of the statute. It is a hazard problem. Specifically, it involves a determination of whether the statutory duty of displaying signal flags and responsibility for protecting traffic were designed, at least in part, to afford protection to the class of claimants of which plaintiff is a member from the hazard of confused or inattentive drivers colliding with stationary vehicles on the highway.
In Maggiore v. Laundry & Dry Cleaning Service, Inc., La.App., 150 So. 394, the Court of Appeal, with Judge Janvier as its organ, defined the scope of protection of
In Butts v. Ward, 227 Wis. 387, 279 N.W. 6, 116 A.L.R. 1441, the court, in discussing the scope of protection of a traffic statute, stated:
In 38 Am.Jur., Negligence, § 167, p. 841, the rule is succinctly stated as follows:
In a scholarly article entitled "Proximate Cause in Louisiana" by Jesse D. McDonald, 16 Louisiana Law Review 391, the principle is stated as follows:
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To the same effect see Green, Rationale of Proximate Cause, pp. 142-144.
The inattention or confusion of motor vehicle drivers is not a highly extraordinary
Law and reason support a conclusion that the defendants should not be relieved of liability.
In Malone v. Hughes, La.App., 65 So.2d 665, the plaintiff was a guest passenger in an approaching vehicle which collided with a parked automobile. The evidence showed that the parked vehicle was visible for some 500 feet. The roadway was gravel and the evidence indicated that the approaching vehicle, in which the plaintiff was a passenger, applied its brakes about 140 feet from defendant's automobile, but that this failed to bring the auto to a stop and its right front collided with the left rear of defendant's automobile. Among other things, the defendant, Hughes, contended that the proximate cause of the accident was the failure of plaintiff's host in not observing the situation in time to avoid the collision. The court found for plaintiff, however, saying:
In Falgout v. Younger, La.App., 192 So. 706, the factual situation is somewhat different, but the applicable principles are the same. The accident occurred about 7 a. m. The visibility was about one hundred feet. The driver approaching from the rear of the obstructing truck attempted to pass it on the left and collided with plaintiff's vehicle coming from the opposite direction. The court found the approaching driver guilty of gross negligence in driving at an excessive speed and failing to keep his vehicle under proper control. The court found that the obstructing driver had placed no warning signals and had left less than the statutory clearance of fifteen feet. It rendered judgment against those responsible for both vehicles. The court held:
The defendants rely upon the decisions of the Courts of Appeal in Manning v.
It appears futile to attempt a reconciliation of these and other cases dealing with actions by third parties arising from collisions between a moving and stationary vehicle. This is rendered difficult by the ambiguity of the language of proximate cause. As employed by courts, proximate cause is a legal concept without fixed content. It is used indiscriminately to refer to cause-in-fact, the scope of liability, and other negligence factors.
In the Williams case, this Court granted writs, but before submission it was compromised and dismissed. However, the case is distinguishable. In that case plaintiff's automobile (with lights burning) stopped momentarily behind a parked truck which had no flares in place. A large tractor and trailer approaching from the rear crossed into the left lane to pass. The tractor cleared the plaintiff's automobile, but the trailer struck it. The action of the passing tractor-trailer caused an oncoming car to take to the shoulder in order to pass the situs. The court absolved the parked truck from liability on the ground that the action of the passing truck had "no connection with the act of negligence of the driver" of the parked truck in failing to place flares. The court stated further: "* * * it must appear that the manner of violation was one of the proximate causes of accident and resulting injury." (Italics ours.) It is evident that the holding of the court was that the failure of the parked truck to display flares was not a cause-in-fact of the collision between the other two vehicles.
The Manning case appears to be based on a holding that stopping on the highway and failing to display flags was excusable, and hence there was no negligence on the part of the obstructing driver. The court held:
That the reference to proximate cause is dicta is evident from the following language of the court:
In the Penton case the violation alleged was the failure of the driver of the obstructing truck to leave a clearance of fifteen feet in parking on the highway as required by statute. It is not clear from the opinion whether the clearance space had any connection with the accident. If not, the decision is supportable on the ground that the violation was not a cause-in-fact of the accident.
Admittedly, the broad language of these decisions in reference to proximate cause conflicts with Falgout v. Younger and Malone v. Hughes, supra, as well as the views expressed herein. Insofar as such a conflict exists, we have elected not to follow these decisions. The doctrine of passive negligence, as stated in them, places undue emphasis on the chronology of the negligent acts and omissions. In so doing it insulates the first wrongdoer from liability to innocent victims. As applied to cases of the type here presented, it renders nugatory the statutory provisions against the obstruction of highways.
The obstruction of a main artery of traffic without statutory precautions is fraught with danger to motorists. The traffic congestion and advancing speed of recent years have added to that danger.
We hold that the defendants are liable to the plaintiff for the damages sustained by it.
It has been the practice of this Court to remand cases to the Courts of Appeal to fix damages when that court has not passed upon the issue. See Felt v. Price, 240 La. 966,
For the reasons assigned, the judgment of the Court of Appeal affirming the judgment of the district court is reversed and set aside. Judgment is rendered in favor of the plaintiff, Dixie Drive It Yourself System New Orleans Co., Inc., against the defendants, American Beverage Company and Northern Insurance Company of New York, in solido, in such sum as may hereafter be fixed; and the case is remanded in the Court of Appeal, Fourth Circuit, for the assessment of damages according to law. All costs of court are to be paid by the defendants.
HAMITER, J., concurs in the result.
McCALEB and HAMLIN, JJ., dissent being of the opinion that the judgment of the Court of Appeal is correct. See 128 So.2d 841.