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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Can a Driver Who ‘Waves’ Another Driver to Make a Left Turn Be Legally Liable for a Car Crash?

On the theory that no good deed goes unpunished, here’s a case about a driver who was sued after she stopped her vehicle and waved another driver into the roadway to make a left turn. The left-turning vehicle was struck by a third vehicle.

‘Wave-On-Liability’

In McLaughlin v. Caban, a driver was attempting to exit a parking lot to make a left turn to travel north. A driver who was traveling south saw the driver attempting to exit the parking lot and stopped her vehicle and waved the driver to proceed out into the roadway. The first driver pulled her vehicle into the southbound lane and looked to her right for oncoming northbound traffic. At the same time, a third driver who was traveling south drove around the driver who waved the car in and collided with the front driver’s side of the vehicle that had exited the parking lot.

The driver who exited the parking lot sued both drivers for personal injuries. Her negligence claim against the driver who waved her into the roadway was based upon a theory of “wave-on-liability,” in which she alleged that the driver:

  • Failed to observed the roadway before indicating for her to proceed
  • Failed to ensure that the roadway was clear before indicating for her to proceed
  • Failed to warn her of oncoming traffic
  • Improperly waved another driver to proceed into the roadway

The “waving” driver asked the trial court to dismiss the case against her, arguing that the plaintiff’s testimony during a deposition established that she interpreted her wave to mean only that she would stop to allow the plaintiff to proceed out of the parking lot and nothing else.

Jury’s Responsibility

In declining to dismiss the case, the trial court noted that the law provides a “duty to act with due care upon an individual performing a gratuitous undertaking.” The court, citing Pennsylvania case law, wrote:

It is the responsibility of the trier of fact to determine if the signaling motorist’s action was something other than a mere courtesy or a yielding of the right of way by assessing factual issues such as “the type of signal the motorist made, what reasonable interpretation the other driver could have given the signal, whether the signaler’s act was negligent and whether the signaler’s act was the legal cause of the accident.”

Relying on the plaintiff’s testimony, the court decided that there was an open an issue of fact as to whether the turning driver interpreted the wave as an indication that “no traffic was coming from her left in the southbound lane, and that [the waving driver] would continue to block traffic.”

Conclusion

The court’s decision allows the plaintiff to proceed with her lawsuit against the “waving” driver so that the issue of the driver’s negligence, if any, can be decided at trial. Although the decision is not the final outcome of the lawsuit, it may make some drivers think twice before extending a good deed to their fellow motorists.