But I Had The Right Of Way


You are driving along in your car on a city side street. The weather is clear, and you are driving slightly less than the speed limit because a lot of cars are parked on both sides on the street. You are driving through a number of intersections which have no stop signs on any of the four corners.

You know the rules of the road from your high school driver's education class, and the studying you had to do in order to pass the written test for your first driver's license.

As you approach each corner, you pay special attention to the traffic coming from the right, because they have the right-of-way. You pay little or no attention to cars coming from your left, because you also know that you have the right-of-way with them.

Now, all of us know that if a car coming from your left fails to give you the right-of-way and slams into you, he is going to have to pay for all of your car repair, medical bills, and time loss from work, right?

Wrong! This is not always the case. Although the car on the left has to yield, it's possible that you can be held partly responsible for whatever damage occurs from the collision, because of the legal concept of "contributory negligence."

Contributory negligence of the "favored" driver (coming from the right) could substantially reduce the amount of damages that he could get from the "unfavored" driver (coming from the left) who failed to yield the right of way.

A recent case from the Washington State Court of Appeals explains. In a location similar to the one described above, GM was driving west and HP was driving north. GM, on the right, had the right of way. Neither driver could see the other because of cars that were parked along side the road.

The Court of Appeals said that although GM was the "favored" driver, he could only recover sixty (60%) percent of his damages from HP because his "contributory negligence" amounted to forty (40%) percent of the combined negligence from both drivers.

Although the "favored" driver has a superior right-of-way in an unmarked intersection, he has to exercise "reasonable" care to avoid an accident from someone approaching on the left. Whether or not the "favored" driver has exercised reasonable care depends on all the circumstances surrounding the incident.

The legal principal to be followed below, will not be of great comfort to anyone who has ever had trouble following the assembly instructions for a toy given to a child on Christmas: Here's the quote from the court's published opinion: "The favored driver may assume that the disfavored driver will yield the right-of-way until the favored driver reaches that point at which a reasonable person would realize that the disfavored driver is not going to yield." In other words, if you are the driver on the right and you see a car coming from the left, you can exercise your right of way unless you see that the driver on the left is not going to yield.

During the trial of the case mentioned above, the favored driver testified that he almost stopped at the intersection, crept out, realized he should put on the brakes, but was unable to get his foot on the peddle before the cars collided. The Court of Appeals said that the jury was justified in concluding that if GM had not driven out further into the intersection after he saw HP, he could have avoided the collision.

What is the moral of this story? (1) Follow the rules of the road, (2) do whatever you can to prevent a collision, even when you have the right-of-way.