Understanding the Legal Principles and Elements of Negligence
Jayan v. Jenkins
Wake County Superior Court, 2016
In this case, Jayan brought a negligence action arising out of a motor vehicle accident against Jenkins, alleging damages in the death of her husband, Narayanan. The plaintiff’s husband was traveling north on NC Highway 68, while defendant was traveling south but had stopped in the roadway to make a left hand turn. While Jenkins’ vehicle was stopped and waiting for traffic to clear, it was rear ended by Ryan Thomas Poe, who was driving a tractor trailer loaded with logs. The ensuing impact caused Jenkins’ vehicle to move forward, rotate to the left, cross the center line and collide with the driver’s side of Narayanan’s vehicle. Narayanan subsequently passed away from injuries sustained in the collision.
After Jayan brought the suit against Jenkins, the insurance company sought to deny Jenkins’ liability, as they contended that the accident was solely caused by the negligent third party driver, Ryan Poe.
According to the Restatement (Second) of Torts, “negligence is conduct that falls below the standard of care established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm.” The prima facie (required) elements of negligence include: duty, breach, causation, and damages. Duty is the requirement to exercise due care to protect another person from foreseeable injury. Breach is the failure to adhere to the standard of care to uphold that duty. Essentially, the standard of care is what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances. Causation is comprised of two aspects: cause in fact and proximate cause. Cause in fact requires the plaintiff to show that damages suffered were caused, as a matter of fact, by defendant’s action or inaction. Proximate cause, which is a limitation on liability, requires the plaintiff to show that the breach of the duty by the defendant was close in time, space, and logic to the damages suffered. Finally, to prove damages, a plaintiff must establish past, present, and future damages, which can be either compensatory or punitive. Compensatory damages are to reimburse the plaintiff for the loss suffered and include medical bills, lost wages, travel expenses, etc. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant, and to discourage the repetition of the negligent conduct.
In this case, Jayan alleges: (1) that Jenkins owed her late husband a duty of care while operating a motor vehicle; (2) that Jenkins’ breached that duty by crossing the center line of the highway and colliding with Narayanan’s vehicle; (3) that Jenkins’ action was both the cause in fact and the proximate cause of Narayanan’s death; and (4) that Jayan suffered damages as a result of the death of her husband.
Rather than let this case go to trial, Jenkins’ insurance company, Erie, even with the belief that there was no liability on Jenkins’ part, nevertheless settled the case for $90,000.00. This settlement included a release of claims by the plaintiff against Jenkins and the insurance company. The court noted that the Jenkins’ attorney stated he was currently representing Jenkins and her two minor sons in a personal injury action to be filed against the logging truck operator.
The key takeaway from this case is that insurance companies are quick to settle a case, even if it may not be in their best interest at the time. In this case, Erie will likely seek compensation for the settlement from the logging truck operator’s insurance company, and may prevail in that action, but only if Jenkins can prove that the Ryan Poe was negligent in operating the log truck.