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The perils of road courtesy

According to press reports, a judge in February approved a $4.75 million settlement in a suit filed against Verizon New England and its employee Roger O'Neil over an accident that severely injured 14-year-old Amy Woods in 1996. O'Neil, driving the Verizon truck, didn't hit Woods; instead, he stopped for her and waved for her to cross the street, but she was struck by a second vehicle that didn't stop. Her parents sued Verizon on the grounds that this constituted negligence ("Accident lawsuit settled between girl's family, Verizon", AP/WGGB (Springfield, Mass.), Feb. 23; Theo Emery, "Jury to decide whether driver liable for accident", Concord Monitor, Jun. 24, 2003, reprinted at Pelham (N.H.) message board).

If the facts are as presented, this seems unbelievable to me. It seems to me this should have been thrown out on public policy grounds. The law should be encouraging drivers to yield to pedestrians, not punishing them for it. -- Jim Ancona, Boylston, Mass.

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Comments

I'm a professional driver, though of a vehicle somewhat larger than this Verizon van. For years now, the Safety Departments in companies that I have driven for have warned us against using any kind of courtesy signal, whether flashing lights, waving or voicing "go ahead" over the cb, because then we "assume the liability" for whatever happens next.

Sad to say, that's the only rule that makes sense. Doing that sort of thing is only different in degree, not kind, from walking into the middle of a busy highway to direct traffic. If you're going to modify the rules of the road to make it more convenient for someone else, it's not unreasonable for you to take responsibility for damage caused by people who ARE following the regular rules.

Once I was stopped at a red light in traffic. It was backed up for about a block and I was stopped barely into the intersection a block away from the traffic light. A car coming toward me had its left blinker on, indicating it wanted to turn in front of me onto the street crossing the street I was on. She had stopped, blocking traffic behind her. There was enough room in front of me for her to make the turn. This was on a two lane street in mixed residential and commercial buildings during rush hour in a medium sized town. I motioned for her to go ahead, meaning I wasn't going to go forward and block the intersection. She turned left, but a little sports car was passing people on the right (illegal, but there was barely room). The sports car hit the turning car smack in the side. When it was obvious no one was hurt, I left quickly, before the police arrived. I feared I would be sued. I am a doctor, a surgeon familiar with trauma. Not only am I afraid of a lawsuit, I am a 'deep pocket' target for this kind of lawsuit. It would serve the public's interest to remove doctor's fears of lawsuits when they might be able to hang around and help. In my state there is a 'good samaritan' law that applies to doctors (albiet a higher standard than non-doctors) but does it apply to a polite driver who happens to be a doctor? I doubt it.

It is unconscionable that Amy Woods's parents let her cross the street alone without making perfectly sure that she knew to look before she crossed, in spite of any beckonings or signals she might have encountered. That's the real negligence here. When I was 8, I knew to look both ways before stepping off the curb.