Waving a Car Into Traffic Prior to Crash Results in Liability

A Monmouth County jury awarded $1.5 million to Michael Lewis of Asbury Park, NJ as compensation for serious injuries he sustained when he collided his motorcycle with a vehicle operated by Thurman Baker in the case of Lewis v. Baker, et al.   What was unique about this case was that a truck driver, David Carhuamacca of Queens, was held fifty percent liable for the incident because he waved Mr. Baker into traffic just prior to the crash.  Under New Jersey law, anyone who waves another automobile into traffic can be held liable if the car being waved into traffic causes an accident.  Anyone injured in an accident in New Jersey should contact a New Jersey personal injury lawyer or New Jersey auto accident lawyer so that all of the parties potentially responsible for the accident can be identified. 

In this  case, defendant Carhuamacca was driving his truck in the outer eastbound lane of Route 33 in Neptune, NJ.  Defendant Baker was exited the parking lot of a Dunkin’ Donuts and attempting to turn left onto the westbound lanes of Route 33.   Carhuamacca stopped and waved to Baker signalling that he was permitting Baker to cross in front of his truck so that Baker could make the left-hand turn.  Plaintiff Lewis was on his motorcycle in the inner eastbound lane of Route 33.  After defendant Baker crossed in front of defendant Carhuamacca in the outer eastbound lane, Baker proceeded to cross the inner eastbound lane.  Plaintiff Lewis, who was driving down the inner eastbound lane, crashed his motorcycle into the driver’s door of defendant Baker’s vehicle.  After plaintiff Lewis discovered from a police officer at the scene that defendant Carhuamacca had admitted to waving defendant Baker into traffic, Lewis also named Carhuamacca as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The first case in New Jersey to analyze whether a driver that waves another car into traffic can be held liable for an accident that ensues was Thorne v. Miller, decided in the Law Division by Judge Wells in 1998.  Under facts substantially similar to the Lewis v. Baker case, Judge Wells framed the issue as whether a “waving driver” owes a duty of care to injured parties when an accident occurs after the “waving driver” undertakes a gesture to facilitate the “waved driver’s” course of passage. 

Judge Wells noted that an Ohio court that examined the same issue determined that there was no duty because the act was one of courtesy, not obligation.  In rejecting this analysis, Judge Wells stated: “I reject the notion that the court should not impose a duty of care on gesturing drivers because it would tend to lessen civility, in general, on the highways, a serious problem these days much in the public press.  But encouraging civility at the expense of driving safety is not, in my opinion, sound public policy.”  Instead, Judge Wells applied the ordinary legal principle of determining whether a duty of care exists: foreseeability of harm. 

Judge Wells noted that it is reasonably foreseeable that engaging in gestures to facilitate the flow of traffic could result in an accident.  It is also foreseeable that another driver would rely on a gesture when entering traffic.  Finally, it is reasonably foreseeable to a driver in the outer lane of traffic on a road with two lanes for travel in the same direction that another vehicle may be approaching from the rear in the inner lane.  Therefore, under these circumstances, principles of foreseeability favor imposing a duty of care on the gesturing driver.  The Court also noted that the duty to be imposed should be weighed against the risk of the harm and the practicality of preventing that harm.  It is clear that driving is dangerous and there is a great risk of harm.  A gesturing driver can very easily prevent harm from his gesturing by either being reasonably certain that the gesture will not result in harm or by not gesturing at all.

New Jersey drivers are all too familiar with the disruptions caused in traffic by drivers attempting to engage in acts of courtesy.  While road rage and other acts of discourtesy are problems on the road, Judge Wells was right that courtesy should not come at the expense of safety.  The first and foremost concern of all drivers on New Jersey roads should be their own safety and the safety of other motorists and pedestrians.  Anyone injured in an auto accident in New Jersey should contact a New Jersey personal injury lawyer or New Jersey auto accident lawyer for assistance.