Legal Memorandum: Standard for Proving Absolute Liability


Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Nuisance; Absolute liability; Proximately caused
Jurisdiction: California
Cited Cases: 110 Cal. 480; 49 Cal. 2d 674; 154 Cal. 402; 102 Cal. 220; 97 P. 881; 36 P. 411; 42 P. 980; 321 P.2d 1; 276 P. 591
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 07/01/2000

It is well-settled law in California that nuisances that cause traffic obstructions give rise to absolute liability on the part of the party who creates the nuisance.  In Vasquez v. Alameda, 49 Cal. 2d 674,  321 P.2d 1 (1958), a driver pushed his inoperable vehicle onto a roadway, where it was hit.  The driver sought to recover from the owner of the vehicle that hit him.  If the plaintiff did, indeed, create a nuisance, reasoned the court, the "plaintiff’s liability to others for damages proximately caused by it would be, insofar as his own act is concerned, absolute."  Id., 49 Cal. 2d at 676, 321 P.2d at 3.  It went on to explain the effect of "absolute liability," reasoning that the

plaintiff, if we take the view that he  participated in creating a nuisance, may not recover against anyone for injuries, to the causation of which the nuisance proximately contributed, even though a defendant’s negligence may have also contributed proximately to the accident.

Id.  In short, absolute liability renders inquiry into causation moot.

Another California case discussing obstructions as nuisances per se is Michael v. Key Sys. Transit Co., 98 Cal. App. 189,  276 P. 591 (1929).  In Michael, the plaintiffs sued the operators of a streetcar for causing an accident by obstructing a thoroughfare.  The court held that the streetcar company was not liable, because it had a legal right to have its car on the roadway.  […]

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