Denis Le Moullac and Jessie Jewitt v Daylight Foods Inc and Gilberto Alcantar (2014) H&FLR 2015-8

San Francisco Superior Court

15 January 2015

Coram: Lam J.

Appearing for the Plaintiff: William Veen and Anthony Label (of The Veen Firm) and Micha Star Liberty  (of Liberty Law)
Appearing for the Defendant: Brent Anderson, Ronald Lenert and Kevin Taylor (of Taylor Anderson); Keith Bremer and Tyler Offenhauser (of Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara)

Catchwords: California – road accident – cyclist – wrongful death – damages.

Facts: At around 7am on 24 August 2013 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac (“the deceased”) was cycling to work in a bicycle lane on Folsom Street in the South-of-Market district of San Francisco. As she approached the intersection of Folsom Street and Sixth Street she was struck and killed by a right-turning* semi-trailer belonging to Daylight Foods and driven by its employee Gilberto Alcantar. The evidence indicated that the bike lane was ‘dashed’ at the relevant point, so that the truck could cross it to enter Sixth Street, but that Alcantar failed to give way to the deceased.

The deceased was wearing a helmet. The evidence was unclear as to whether she was wearing earbuds while riding. It appears Alcantar gave a history of seeing the deceased, passing her, and then losing sight of her shortly before turning. It was unclear what speed either party was travelling.

The San Francisco District Attorney’s office elected not to charge the driver with vehicular manslaughter and the police elected not to issue a traffic infringement to the driver**. The deceased’s parents sought compensation for wrongful death from the driver and his employer.

Held: A jury of the San Francisco Superior Court found that Alcantar had driven negligently and that his employer was vicariously liable for his actions. It found no negligence on the part of the deceased. Damages of $4,000,000.00 were awarded.

Judgment

The matter was finalised by a jury verdict and no written reasons were issued.  The report is prepared based on the Court’s case record, on reports KQED News on 15 January 2015, 18 December 2014, 13 May 2014 and 27 August 2013, and on a memorial website prepared by the deceased’s co-workers.

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* British and Australian readers should remember that American drivers use the right-hand side of the road, and so Mr Alcantar was turning towards the side of the intersection closest to his truck.

** The decision not to prosecute for vehicular manslaughter is perhaps understandable, if conservative: the California Penal Code §192(c) requires at least negligence on the part of a driver; however, the various gradations of negligence in law are tending to become conceptually blurry and there may have been genuine doubt as to how a criminal jury would assess the driver’s conduct: see Stephen Tuck, ‘A recent decision of the Fourth Florida District Court of Appeal’ [Winter 2014] Comm’l Transp. Litig. Cmte Newsl. 10.  The decision not to issue an infringement notice is less explicable. While the California Vehicle Code §21717 required Mr Alcantar to enter the deceased’s lane, safe driving required him to give way to any vehicle already in the lane. An almost identical Victorian case involving a collision between a truck and a pedestrian resulted in a plea of guilty for failing to give way while turning under the predecessor section to Road Safety Road Rules 2009 §72(5)(c): Police v Biagio Favala (Melbourne Magistrates Court, unknown magistrate, 23 September 2008, unreported)

Note: Grateful thanks to Lenore Shefman of Shefman Law Group (Cyclistlaw), Austin, Texas, for alerting me to this case.