The employer of a trucker who illegally parked his rig alongside a freeway bears some responsibility for the death of a driver who lost control of his pickup and slammed into the truck, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
Monday's unanimous decision reinstated a San Bernardino County jury's verdict that found Ralphs Grocery Co. was 10 percent at fault for a crash on the shoulder of Interstate 10 that killed Adelelmo Cabral. That share, in a lawsuit by Cabral's widow, amounted to $475,000.
Cabral, a construction worker, was driving his pickup truck home from work in February 2004 when he swerved through traffic, veered onto the dirt shoulder to the right of the freeway and slammed into the rear of a Ralphs tractor-trailer, 16 feet off the pavement, at 70 to 80 mph, the court said.
Cabral had not been drinking and either fell asleep at the wheel or suffered a health problem, medical personnel testified.
Caltrans had posted the area for emergency parking only, but the trucker, Hen Horn, regularly parked there to have a snack, the court said.
A state appeals court overturned the verdict that found Ralphs partially at fault, saying the company had no legal obligation to protect motorists from a negligently parked truck because a roadside crash was no more than a remote possibility.
But the state's high court said a crash into a vehicle parked next to a freeway is "clearly foreseeable," and the vehicle owner's degree of responsibility is a question for the jury to decide.
Jeffrey Ehrlich, a lawyer for plaintiff Maria Cabral, said the ruling should send a signal to judges in California to let juries decide questions of negligence and responsibility. But Ralphs' lawyer, Lillie Hsu, said the court's action was alarming.
"After this decision, there's no safe place to park in California," she said. "No matter where you park, if someone hits you, you can be hauled into court and a jury can decide whether you had a good enough reason to park there."