Who is at fault in a left-turn collision?

A high profile collision involving a school bus turning left at a signal, still under investigation — the news article doesn’t let on who the police believe is responsible for the collision that killed two motorists. The collision occurred in Phoenix at Union Hills Drive, and 12th Street. The speed of the car was reportedly excessive. The bus was turning left, and the car was straight-through; this is a signalized intersection; the news story doesn’t give any indication of the status of the signal.

Note that a driver (or a cyclist or pedestrian) who is already in the intersection “lawfully” (that is to say, they entered on a green) always has the right-of-way over traffic coming from its right or left; even when that traffic gets the green (usually referred to as a “new” green). Put another way, everyone has a duty to wait for the intersection to clear before proceeding.

§28-645(1) (a) Green Indication: “…traffic… shall yield the right-of-way to other vehicles and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection…”

Comment from user “3287” on a Tucson Citizen forum:

If someone makes a bad left turn in front of you and you react and hit the brakes but can’t stop in time, is it your fault? If you don’t know the answer then please turn in your driver’s license. Here’s the answer….

A.R.S. 28-772. Vehicle turning left at intersection

The driver of a vehicle within an intersection intending to turn to the left shall yield the right-of-way to a vehicle that is approaching from the opposite direction and that is within the intersection or so close to the intersection as to constitute an immediate hazard.

Still confused as to what the law is?

One making a left turn must do so only when it is safe to do so; that is, when approaching traffic will not be endangered and will not be required to suddenly slow down or halt to avoid a collision. Op. Atty. Gen. No 58-82.

Still think the left turn has the right of way?

Smith v. Johnson, 183 Ariz. 38, 899 P.2d 199 (App. Div. 1, 1995), the court held that a bad left turn is negligence per se.

“Statute imposing duty upon left-turning driver within intersection to yield right of way to oncoming vehicles does not allow due care defense; statute is “negligence per se” statute, and left-turning driver must yield to oncoming traffic regardless of whether he diligently looks for such traffic.”

 

On the topic OF RED-LIGHT RUNNERS colliding with left-turners

For those still wondering about what happens if a red-light runner hits a left-turner, see Negligent driver who killed 5 gets 1-year sentence. The red-light runner in this instance had the best attorney money can buy — I seriously doubt he would have had his client plead guilty to Neg Hom were he not negligent (this however, being a criminal case. Though, if anything, it should be harder to find someone criminally responsible)

Smith v. Johnson, mentioned above, involves a left turn at a NON-SIGNALIZED intersection, there was some “waving on” and also other vehicles that blocked the left-turner’s line-of-sight. In other words, he was negligent.

In Smith, “it was impossible for him (the left-turner) to determine whether his path was clear. In other words, he admitted making a blind turn across traffic”… and quoting Brannigan v. Raybuck,136 Ariz. 513, 517, 667 P.2d 213, 217 (1983). [if that link breaks,  same case on Leagle]:

It is the prevailing rule, recognized in Arizona, that a breach of a statute intended as a safety regulation is not merely evidence of negligence but is negligence per se. Orlando v. Northcutt, 103 Ariz. 298, 300, 441 P.2d 58, 60 (1968); W. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts § 36 at 197-200 (4th ed. 1971)

So any red-light runner would also be in breach of a statute, the negligence would or could be shared between the runner and the turner. In particular,  §28-645A3, ” traffic facing a steady red signal alone shall stop before entering the intersection” (my emphasis); sounds pretty absolute to me.

In the Arizona Attorney General’s Opinion No. 58-82 mentioned above, the question of what constitutes an immediate hazard are supposedly answered. The issue of signalized intersections isn’t mentioned there, either. They point out, rather unhelpfully that “the instruction to the jury on this question would in every case differ according to the facts of that case”

Interesting historical footnote, the version of 28-772 from the time of that opinion (1958) used to be longer, the last 40 or 50 words have since been lopped off.

Here’s another case where straight-through driver (excessive speed; the color of the light isn’t mentioned) went to prison after killing a left-turner  –Laurie Roberts wrote about former state representative Cal Holman who was killed turning left when not one but two speeders plowed into him; Robert Van Brakel, 42,  and Travis Aronica, 25. The two speeders are both habitual law-breakers — they might get off with probation, which really shows how dicey these prosecutions can be.  “The prosecutor, in court records, wrote that Van Brakel has a “long and disturbing history” of drag racing and speeding and that Aronica has multiple citations for reckless driving and speeding. Liz Holman told me that investigators found that Van Braken has had seven tickets for moving violations in various states since 2004, including one for doing 120 mph in a 75 mph zone. Aronica, she said, has had 13 citations since 2002, including one for doing 88 mph in a 60 mph zone just a few weeks before the Dec. 28, 2007, crash that killed Holman”. One of the defense lawyers said (they are so slimey — but i guess they have to say these things?)

Aronica’s attorney, Jeffery Mehrens, told me his client’s speed, which he placed at 65 mph, was “common” for Scottsdale Road and that Aronica shouldn’t be prosecuted at all. “Under Arizona law, if you turn left you are absolutely required to make sure that it’s clear to do so,” he said. “If you turn left and you are hit, it is your fault. Period.” Translation: it’s Holman’s own fault that he didn’t realize the oncoming drivers were going 22 and 33 mph over the speed limit

Period? well no, of course not. Everyone has a right to expect others to act reasonably. Still manslaughter seems a reach; I would be happier seeing these knuckleheads have their licenses revoked for a good long time. This story didn’t delve into insurance or civil stuff but I wonder, again, who insures guys like these (with so many violations!)? Oh, and a shout out to the NMA-types  (the “National Motorist’s Association”) who believe speeding isn’t a big problem. There are some interesting references on the friendsofcalholman.com page about possible legislation to toughen penalties. There is a final outcome in the Holman death: update-on-van-brakels-manslaughter-sentence.

See here for a discussion of how the reverse is claimed to be true in UK(? but is presumably wrong).

Another Red Runner Loses

Casanova v. Nims  CA-CV 11-0623. Where the plaintiff, Casanova, who was going straight lost, and lost up through the court of appeals. Nims, the defendant, turned left after the light had turned red. “plaintiffs claim undisputed evidence established Nims was
negligent per se for violating his duty under A.R.S. § 28-772″ was rejected by the court…  because among other reasons “There was evidence at trial that Nims (the left-turner)  looked for oncoming traffic before beginning his turn but did not see Casanova’s (going straight throug) car approaching. At the time (southbound) Nims began his turn, northbound traffic was stopped at a red light and cars were fully stopped in two of the three lanes”

22 thoughts on “Who is at fault in a left-turn collision?”

  1. what if you made left turn when light turns red and other driver run through red light?

    –ed note: If the left turner is already in the intersection (i.e. they entered the intersection legally, on the green) — then the opposing traffic runs the red and collides, they would be at fault.

  2. I just went to traffic school, where I was taught that even if you have a green arrow to make a left turn, and opposing traffic runs a red light and hits you, then you would be at fault. When you are making a left turn, you must be sure it is safe to do so. Basically, anyone turning left get be at fault in this state.

    – ed note: perhaps your instructor is speaking from a practicality sense, that is to say, the left turner is always going to be presumed negligent. At a traffic signal, the usual case is that the left turner is probably going to think/say the signal was red, the opposing driver is going to think/say he had the green…. obviously both can’t be right. And eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable.
    I get to speak in hypotheticals and certainties: the driver running the red is at fault. Red-light cameras do provide (near) certainty; see e.g. the Shugrue / Ruiz incident. Ruiz (the left turner) believed the light was red…Shugure (the opposing traffic) claimed he had a green, the camera supported Shugrue.

  3. If someone is making a left hand turn. And seems deemed that the traffic on the oncoming is way back and safe to do so, and a driver comes on at 109, miles per hour, and hits the driver making the left turn, on the bed of his pick up, whos fault is it then. Is it the driver driving at an excessive speed in a 45 mpr zone our the left turn driver, judging the oncoming at a normal speed of 45. The driver making the left turn judged the oncoming so far back, that he did not think one of the oncoming was Going 109 and hit him. John reply would be great.. Thanks

  4. In May or 2008 I was in an accident which I had the green arrow making a left hand turn. The young man that hit me was cited and my car was totalled. I did not see this young man coming and midway thru my turn is when I got hit. I called several lawyers regarding the injuries I received during this accident. No lawyer would take my case. I was told that in the state of AZ it is hard to win a case with a left and turn with a green arrow. Even when I explained that my witness was an off duty officer and that the young man was cited no lawyer would take my case. The reason I was told was because of AZ law that because I had the green arrow it was still my responsibility to make sure it was clear to take the left hand turn. I was so upset because I knew for a fact I was not at fault that there was no way for me to see after being half way into the turn an on coming car. There was a paralegal that listen to me and he promised me that he would call me back in a few days. This young man went to the board regarding my case over his bosses head. After the review of the police report they decided to take my case and I won. If I didn’t have an officer of the law that witnessed the accident that I was in I would be up to my neck in medical bills. Red means stop I was taught as a child and green means go. I’m sure if one can avoid being hit that person would. Why would anyone put themselves in harms way even if they had the green. Many times it too late to avoid a collision yet the person that had the green can be considered at fault in the state of AZ.

  5. I was there before the first responders. I had to pick my bicycle up to avoid all the debris. The car was completely under the bus. People said he was doing 90 mph. How can you judge someone doing 90mph on a left turn with a bus? Who knows.

  6. I was making a left turn on a green light with no arrows I was doing less than 20mph I looked and no one was coming I proceeded to make the turn and I was hit by a speeding car. Witness told the police there was no way I could have possibly seen her (teenager) she came out of nowhere. My SUV was totaled although she claims she was only doing 35 miles per hour. The two towing places that handled my CRV said there is no way she could have done the damage she did doing 35 mph. I was cited and I am at a loss, I am 55 never had a ticket in all my years of driving, I am so cautious, still can’t sort it out. Am I fighting a losing battle here? I called an attorney and he told me any time you are making a left it is your fault even if that vehicle hits you, this just does not seem right. Thank you Lynn

  7. If a driver is on the right side of another driver at a 4 way stop, and is on the right side (has the right of way), does the fact that they are turning left negate their right of way? It seems to me that if I have the right of way, I may still go left. Everything I have read only addresses ONCOMING traffic. I am asking about if the car is to my left.

  8. This is pretty interesting; it only applies directly to Massachusetts, something called the Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP), but has some good general guidelines.

    211 CMR 74.00: Standards of Fault to be Used by the Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability

    (15) Collision While Making a Left Turn or U-Turn Across the Travel Path of a Vehicle Traveling in the Same or Opposite Direction. The operator of a vehicle subject to the Safe Driver Insurance Plan shall be presumed to be more than 50% at fault when operating a vehicle making a left turn or U-turn across the path of travel of another vehicle moving: 1. in the same direction, or 2. in the opposite direction, and whose vehicle is in a collision with such vehicle.

  9. Robert is my dad and i belive he dident cause it because my dad hit the passenger side and when travis hit him secondly thats who made him flip.

  10. I was recently in an accident with a city bus in Arizona. There is video evidence that shows the bus about 20 feet back from the intersection when the light turns yellow (moving approximately 25 mph), it proceeds into the intersection on the yellow and begins to make a turn when the light turns red. I am coming from the opposite side of the intersection, going straight. I do no quite cross the intersection line when the light turns red (going about 35 mph) and as I enter the intersection the front right side of the bus collides with the front left side of my car. The police report puts the bus at fault, but the bus’s insurance company sees it differently. Who is at fault here?

  11. ON THE TOPIC OF RED-LIGHT RUNNERS colliding with left-turners

    Smith v. Johnson involves a left turn at a NON-SIGNALIZED intersection, there was some “waving on” and also other vehicles that blocked the left-turner’s line-of-sight. In other words, he was negligent.

    In Smith, “it was impossible for him (the left-turner) to determine whether his path was clear. In other words, he admitted making a blind turn across traffic”…

    “It is the prevailing rule, recognized in Arizona, that a breach of a statute intended as a safety regulation is not merely evidence of negligence but is negligence per se. Orlando v. Northcutt, 103 Ariz. 298, 300, 441 P.2d 58, 60 (1968); W. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts ? 36 at 197-200 (4th ed. 1971)” Brannigan v. Raybuck,136 Ariz. 513, 517, 667 P.2d 213, 217 (1983).

    So any red-light runner would also be in breach of a statute. So the negligence would be shared between the runner and the turner.

    In the Arizona Attorney General’s Opinion No. 58-82, the question of what constitutes an immediate hazard are supposedly answered. The issue of signalized intersections isn’t mentioned there, either. They point out, rather unhelpfully that “the instruction to the jury on this question would in every case differ according to the facts of that case”

    Interesting historical footnote, the version of 28-772 from the time of that opinion (1958) used to be longer, the last 40 or 50 words have since been lopped off.

    here’s some more possibly juicy stuff from Smith though this relates more to “failure to control” 28-701 cases:
    “In similar situations, courts have held that an unsighted driver cannot proceed while exercising due care. See Coe v. Hough, 42 Ariz. 293, 303-04, 25 P.2d 547, 550 (1933) (‘If an autoist cannot see where he is going he should stop. If his vision is limited he should have such control of his car as to be able to stop within the radius of his vision. If he violates these reasonable and sane rules and runs into someone who is at the time exercising reasonable care, he is, we think, guilty of legal negligence.’);”

    In which they refer to this as the rule laid down in Dennis v. Stukey, 37 Ariz. 299, 294 P. 276; that is a driver must be able to stop within the radius of his vision.

  12. Some of this, of course, may only be applicable in Canada or Ontario even…

    ERIC LAI SPECIAL TO THE STAR
    Eric Lai answers your automotive questions every week for Wheels.

    Q: My car was hit by an oncoming motor vehicle that broke a red light, while I was turning left. That was three years ago. Can you guide me in the right direction to resolve my dispute with the insurance company?

    A: To oversimplify a complex issue, when a left-turn vehicle and straight-ahead vehicle collide, police can lay a charge against the turning driver who always has the onus to ensure the movement is done in safety.

    If a straight-ahead driver runs a red light, they may also face charges. The difficulty here is that police require independent witnesses to establish that the light was red (as both drivers will likely differ on this point), whereas the relative position of the vehicles alone is sufficient to determine that the left-turn driver made a turn and, since a collision resulted, it was therefore not done in safety.

    Police will often charge just one party as they’ll likely need the other to appear as a witness to prove the case. However, Toronto Police Sgt. Tim Burrows advises he’d charge both drivers in a serious collision, or at least consult with the crown prosecutor before making this determination.

    Toronto insurance litigation lawyer Gregory Chang (www.bcbarristers.com) adds:… Usually, both drivers are held to be partially responsible and what differs from case to case is the degree of culpability assigned to each driver.

  13. I was making a left turn on a yellow light and a car decided it can make the yellow light. I stopped with my nose slightly in the middle of the lane. The oncoming car slammed her brakes, swerved and hit me. Who is at fault here? Would it go 50/50 on our insurance?

  14. i was making a left turn within my apartment complex( i had the right-a-way in this case… the way my apartments are set up), while in the process i was hit by another driver that was making a right turn and drove up to far into his turn. insurance company claims i’m at fault. Do the same rules apply inside an apartment complex(private property) as they do on the street? i was told by a police officers that they don’t come out to private property accidents because the same law don’t apply… but the insurance claims are saying the law applies on private property as well.

  15. Apparently, in very early UVC, this was reversed; through-vehicles
    were required to yield to (signalling) left-turning vehicles. The
    “default” rule for uncontrolled intersections when vehicles
    approaching from perpendicular roads is “veh on left yield to veh on
    right”, and TCDs can modify that right of way. But they needed a rule
    that said what to do with vehicles approaching from opposite
    directions, not perpendicular streets.

    That explains the language some, why it says “yield to a vehicle” and
    not “all traffic”. It wasn’t initially meant to be interpreted like
    “left turns must be made with caution”, just as an disambiguation of
    right of way.

  16. I was turning left at a four way crossing. The traffic light going straight for both ways is a yellow caution light. I yeilded looked to be sure it was safe to cross but then was hit by a fan coming from the other side. He was not even remotely close when I made my turn but in a matter of minutes I was hit. They are putting me at fault even though he did not yeild. The speed limit on the road is 55 but I am sure he was doing more. really need some help thanks.

  17. oops that was suppose to be a van
    he crushed the front passenger side which smashed in the door and it also smashed out the back right passenger door.

  18. What are the points of impact during a left turn accident that can prove who has the right away? (Conditions are rain, the other driver speeding with no lights on in the rain.)

  19. I have a question for you. My daughter was turning left onto a two lane road. She came to a complete stop, rolled down her window, and turned off the radio to listen for any traffic coming. This is a public road that is a blind drive onto the two lane. Well she did not hear anything and she pulls out. Out of no where a truck plows into her and hits her. He hits right by the back door on the driver side (4 door acura ) close to back tire spun her around to hit the guard rail on the back passenger side bust the back window out and back bumper came off. Also the trunk lid was caved up on the passenger side (neither back door will open either). The guy that hit her was driving an 83 Dodge Ram and it messed up his driver head light the panel on driver side pushed in a little, the bumper lifted a little, and the grill dented in. My daughter’s car is total and he said he didn’t see her til he got to the top of the hill. The speed limit is suppose to be 35 on this road, but no one does that. Some how my daughter got a ticket for failure to yield and is blamed for the wreck. How is this possible????????

  20. I was turning left at an intersection, I Was in the intersection when the light turned yellow and then red. traffic by the curb was slowing to stop and center traffic was 4 or 5 car links back. I proceeded to turn and saw the center pick-up swerve as he tried to stop bet he hit my rear behind the rear tire. The driver of the other vehicle had no drivers license. Both the other driver and me said the light was red. The officer whom I had my wife call for me wrote me a ticket for failure to yield right of way and the other driver a ticket for no license. I thought she didn’t understand us when we said the light was red. With my wife there by then I tried to explain to the officer again the light was red. She told me the law doesn’t say what color the signal is and I could tell it to the judge. When I got the police report 10 days latter she claimed the light was yellow. Is there anything I can do?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>