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Li v. Yellow Cab Co.

Supreme Court of California

March 31, 1975

L.A. No. 30277


 [*808]  [**1229]  [***861]  [****2]     In this case we address the grave and recurrent question whether we should judicially declare no longer applicable in California courts the doctrine of contributory negligence, which bars all recovery when the plaintiff's negligent conduct has contributed as a legal cause in any degree to the harm suffered by him, and hold that it must give way to a system of comparative negligence, which assesses liability in direct proportion to fault. As we explain in detail infra, we conclude that we should. In the course of reaching our ultimate decision we conclude that: (1) The doctrine of comparative negligence is preferable to the "all-or-nothing" doctrine of contributory negligence from the point of view of logic, practical experience, and fundamental justice; (2) judicial action in this area is not precluded by the presence of section 1714 of the Civil Code, which has been said to "codify" the "all-or-nothing" rule and to render it immune from attack in the courts except on constitutional grounds; (3) given the possibility of judicial action, certain practical difficulties attendant upon the adoption of comparative negligence should not dissuade us from charting a new course -- leaving [****3]  the resolution of some of these problems to future judicial or legislative action; (4) the doctrine of comparative negligence should be applied in this state in its so-called "pure" form under which the assessment of liability in proportion to fault proceeds in spite of the fact that the plaintiff is equally at fault as or more at fault than the defendant; and finally (5) this new rule should be given a limited retrospective application.

The accident here in question occurred near the intersection of Alvarado Street and Third Street in Los Angeles. At this intersection  [*809]  Third Street runs in a generally east-west direction along the crest of a hill, and Alvarado Street, running generally north and south, rises gently to the crest from either direction. At approximately 9 p.m. on November 21, 1968, plaintiff Nga Li was proceeding northbound on Alvarado in her 1967 Oldsmobile. She was in the inside lane, and about 70 feet before she reached the Third Street intersection she stopped and then began a left turn across the three southbound lanes of Alvarado, intending to enter the driveway of a service station. At this time defendant Robert Phillips, an employee of defendant [****4]  Yellow Cab Company, was driving a company-owned taxicab southbound in the middle lane on Alvarado. He came over the crest of the hill, passed through the intersection, and collided with the right rear portion of plaintiff's automobile, resulting in personal injuries to plaintiff as well as considerable damage to the automobile.

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13 Cal. 3d 804 *; 532 P.2d 1226 **; 119 Cal. Rptr. 858 ***; 1975 Cal. LEXIS 210 ****; 40 Cal. Comp. Cases 258; 78 A.L.R.3d 393

NGA LI, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. YELLOW CAB COMPANY OF CALIFORNIA et al., Defendants and Respondents

Subsequent History:  [****1]  On April 24, 1975, the opinion was modified to read as printed above.

Prior History: Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. 947992, Joseph H. Sprankle, Jr., Judge.

Disposition: The judgment is reversed.


comparative negligence, contributory negligence, fault, cases, common law, all-or-nothing, proportion, concepts, doctrine of last clear chance, parties, damages, courts, new rule, apportionment, circumstances, announced, assumption of risk, percent, curiae, doctrine of contributory negligence, want of ordinary care, last clear chance, civil law, intersection, contributed, principles, decisions, Comments, variants, italics

Torts, Defenses, Comparative Fault, General Overview, Contributory Negligence, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Common Law Concepts, Assumption of Risk, Last Clear Chance Doctrine, Civil Procedure, Remedies, Damages, Punitive Damages, Intentional & Reckless Conduct, Justiciability, Case & Controversy Requirements, Actual Controversy, Constitutional Law, The Judiciary, Case or Controversy, Ripeness, Ripeness, Assumption of Risk, Judicial Officers, Judges, Discretionary Powers, Courts, Authority to Adjudicate, Apportionment of Fault, Judicial Precedent