Parsing Pell to Provide Context
My recent article “Parsing Pell to Provide Context: What Constitutes an Unusual Obstacle or Obstruction?”, can be found in the Fall 2015 edition of the Alabama Defense Lawyers Association Journal. I have provided an excerpt below, but the full article can be accessed at the Alabama Defense Lawyers Association website, here.
In a matter of first impression, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals held in Pell v. Tidwell that a signaling motorist could not be held liable for the negligent actions of another motorist who fails to independently ensure that it is safe to cross an intersection, especially under normal driving conditions. The court described normal driving conditions as those under which there are “no unusual obstructions or conditions.” Pell is limited in its practical application in that its definition of “normal driving conditions” has no context or precedent under either statute or case law in Alabama.
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, in adopting the minority view in Pell, held that a signaling motorist could not be held liable for the negligent actions of another motorist who fails to independently ensure that it is safe to cross an intersection, especially under normal driving conditions, “because a driver cannot delegate his or her responsibility for ensuring that it is safe to proceed across an intersection…. [T]he signaling motorist’s conduct constitutes a courtesy to the signaled motorist, but it does not relieve the signaled motorist of his or her own duty to ensure that it is safe to proceed.” More specifically, “a motorist’s hand signal to another motorist to proceed does not absolve the signaled motorist of his or her duty under Alabama law to ensure that it is safe to travel across an intersection and to yield to oncoming traffic. This is especially true when…there are no unusual obstacles or obstructions.”
What the Court of Civil Appeals has left unclear, and what is not elsewhere defined or described in Alabama law, is what circumstances would be considered “unusual obstacles or obstructions” that constitute abnormal driving conditions. While Alabama has not distinguished the expected obstacles or obstructions that would qualify as “normal driving conditions,” as compared to the unusual or unexpected obstacles or obstructions that are not normal, other states have to some degree dealt with these distinctions and can provide some guidance.