Excluding Driver’s Speed When it is not a Proximate Cause of a Collision

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and numerous other jurisdictions have addressed the precise issue of whether speed in excess of that permitted by statute or ordinance alone is sufficient to constitute proximate cause in a personal injury lawsuit. All of the jurisdictions that have addressed this issue agree that speed alone is not the proximate or legal cause of a collision if a driver’s automobile is where it is entitled to be and another driver violates his right-of-way.

As a car accident attorney in Las Vegas, NV, can explain, in the state of Nevada, “right-of-way” means the right of one vehicle or pedestrian to proceed in a lawful manner in preference to another vehicle or pedestrian approaching under such circumstances of direction, speed, and proximity as to give rise to danger of collision unless one grants precedence to the other. NRS 484A.210. The law in Nevada also includes that before a vehicle enters an intersection at a clearly marked stop or yield sign, it must yield to the right-of-way of the vehicles not obligated to stop or yield and that are in the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard(NRS 484B.257):

1. When proper signs have been erected, the driver of a vehicle shall stop or yield at a clearly marked stop line or, if there is none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if there is none, then at the point nearest the intersection where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the through highway. After having stopped or, in the event of a yield sign, slowed or stopped, the driver shall yield the right-of-way to other vehicles which have entered the intersection from such through highway or which are approaching so closely on such through highway as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time such driver is moving across or within that intersection.

2. The driver of a vehicle shall stop in obedience to a stop sign or yield in compliance with a yield sign, in compliance with the manner prescribed in subsection 1, prior to entering an intersection if a stop sign or a yield sign is erected at one or more entrances thereto although not a part of a through highway and shall proceed cautiously, yielding to vehicles not so obligated to stop or yield and which are within the intersection or approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time such driver is moving across or within the intersection.

In Myers v. Bright, 327 Md. 395, 609 A.2d 1182 (MD Ct. App. 1992), the Court examined an automobile accident which occurred when plaintiff Myers collided with defendant Bright, who made a left turn in front of her. The Court stated:

Mr. Bright had a duty to yield the right of way to Mrs. Myers. And that duty to yield was not lessened by any third-party direction. He crossed into her right of way. He either saw but did not yield or failed to see what was obviously there. And there is no other response that any trier of fact would come to but that he is negligent as a matter of law and also, she has the right to assume that no one is going to take the right of way from her. I don’t see that she did anything that contributed to the accident at all . . . She was traveling perhaps in excess of the posted speed limit. But that by itself is not evidence of contributory negligence from one who must assume that no one is going to take the right of way.

         In specifically addressing the issue of the plaintiff’s speed, the Myers Court stated that evidence that a motorist was exceeding a posted speed limit or driving at an excessive rate of speed is not actionable unless such speed is a proximate cause of the accident. Id. at 405, 609 A.2d at 1187. “To show merely excessive speed is ordinarily not enough to support a verdict based on negligence unless there is some further showing that this excessive speed is a direct and proximate cause of the injury.” Id.

         The Myers Court also looked at other jurisdictions’ rulings concerning issues of speeding and causation and found that, throughout the country, courts have consistently held that excessive speed is not the proximate cause of a collision when the favored vehicle is where it is entitled to be and a disfavored driver violates its right of way. Id. at 1187-88. The mere fact that speeding puts a driver in the wrong place at the wrong time does not constitute proximate cause. Id. As pointed out in Myers, it could be argued that had the plaintiff been going at an even more excessive speed, she could have avoided the accident.

Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight on driver’s speed when it is not a proximate cause.