Taking the Liability Issue Away from the Jury in a Rear End Case - KOTA Territory News

Taking the Liability Issue Away from the Jury in a Rear End Case


Gary Jensen
Beardsley, Jensen and Von Wald

Most lawyers and judges would tell you that the law favors letting the jury decide issues rather than the judge – allowing both sides to "have their day in court" with a "jury of their peers."  Sometimes, though, even the issue of liability in a car accident case can be so clear that it should be decided by the judge rather than by the jury. 

In Cooper v. Rang, 2011 S.D. 6, the South Dakota Supreme Court decided that the trial court erred when giving to the jury the issue of liability in a rear end car accident case.  There was no dispute about the material facts.  Plaintiff was stopped at a stop sign at the bottom of any icy hill.  Defendant knew the roads were slippery and saw plaintiff's vehicle, but did not apply her brakes in time to prevent her car from sliding into the rear of plaintiff's minivan.  There was no issue of contributory negligence (plaintiff was stopped at a stop sign) and there was no claim of "legal excuse."  The Court stated:

..this case is so clearly onesided that reasonable minds could reach no conclusion other than that Rang was negligent.

The case was remanded to the trial court with instructions that judgment be entered for plaintiff on the issue of liability and for a new trial on causation and damages. 

What other circumstances might result in the same result – good question.  How many can you think of?

E-mail Gary


Lawline@KOTATV.com is intended as general information on legal issues affecting us all.  This information should not be relied upon in any particular case and should never be used in lieu of consulting with an attorney.


1.      You see yet another car accident at a spot where there have been many accidents in the past and will be more accidents in the future? 


2.      You learn another person is hurt using a machine that has injured others in the past and will injure others in the future? 


3.      You watch a dangerous practice – like where a school bus parks – you know is a disaster waiting to happen?  


What should you do? 


Try to prevent the next accident, injury, and catastrophe from happening. 


How can you do that? 


Send a letter or email to those responsible – the highway department, the owner and operator of the machine, the school district - putting them on notice of the danger.


Your letter or email will either prompt a "fix" or help the next innocent victim establish liability against those who failed to act.   


Taking a few minutes to write a letter or email can have a huge impact; you can be a difference maker. 

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