Given that California is a major hub of the interstate commercial trucking industry, we commonly see big rigs pulled over on the side of the road, more often than not in a non-designated area. This begs the question, who is liable if a driver happened to collide with the parked truck? This question was raised in the case of Cabral v. Ralphs Grocery Company (2010) 51 Cal.4th 764. In this case, a truck driver working for Ralph’s parked his tractor-trailer in a designated emergency parking spot for a rest stop. Decedent, driving home from work, veered sharply off the freeway and collided at a high speed into the parked tractor-trailer. At trial, expert evidence was heard that Decedent was not intoxicated and most likely fell asleep at the wheel. At trial, evidence was put on that showed the driver chose a spot with minimal danger beyond the normal risk posed by parking on the shoulder of a freeway.

The jury found Decedent to be 90 percent comparatively negligent and Ralph’s was assigned 10 percent fault. While that may have seemed like a win, Ralph’s appealed, and the appellate court found that Ralph’s owed no legal duty to avoid a collision since Decedent’s actions were unforeseeable. However, the case moved its way up to the California Supreme Court, which disagreed and upheld the trial court’s finding that Ralphs was 10 percent comparatively negligent.

The California Supreme Court reasoned that Civil Code section 1714 creates a general duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of others. Namely, for purposes of determining whether tractor-trailer driver's duty to exercise ordinary care for others applied to his act of parking alongside a freeway, the foreseeability question was not whether tractor-trailer driver could reasonably have foreseen an accident at that exact spot along the freeway, but whether it was generally foreseeable that a vehicle stopped alongside a freeway might be hit by one departing from the road. Simply put, it is not unforeseeable that a driver may lose control of his/her vehicle and collide with a parked tractor-trailer along a highway.

The Court took these truck liability parking cases a step further in Lawson v. Safeway Inc. (2010) 191 Cal.App.4th 400 when it held that tractor trailer drivers had a duty to not only park legally, but safely. The Court stated that while it agreed with the premise that drivers should ordinarily have no liability if they are legally parked, in the instance of large commercial trucks, the standard is different as such trucks obstruct more of the view of smaller vehicles. This decision unfortunately created a basis of liability simply on the grounds that a tractor trailer is a very large vehicle. Further, “safe parking” is a rather vague legal standard.

In practical terms, all plaintiffs need to show is a one percent negligence for unsafe parking and the motor carrier will surely be named as an additional defendant, and on the hook for economic damages such as medical bills and lost income. Poole Shaffery offers aggressive protection for motor carriers, including unsafe parking claims.