Right to Assume Others Will Exercise Ordinary Care

Posted Friday, December 09, 2016 by Ed Harper

Right to Assume Others Will Exercise Ordinary CareWashington Pattern Instruction (WPI) 12.07 states the following: “Every person has the right to assume that others will exercise ordinary care [and comply with the law], and a person has a right to proceed on such assumption until he or she knows, or in the exercise of ordinary care should know, to the contrary.” This jury instruction has an overlap (WPI 70.06 – Right to Assume Others Will Obey Law – Streets or Highways) and thus WPI 12.07 (Right to assume others will exercise ordinary care) instruction should be read in cases that pertain to non-motor vehicle collision cases. The instruction helps to explain the basic understanding – we all have to act reasonably safe — and how one can “assume” to rely upon this understanding. One must act in a way that is responsible and at the same time cognizant of the effect(s) it will have on those around us. A case, Tennant v. Roys, 44 Wn.App. 305 (1986) points out how a court will evaluate whether a jury instruction should or should not be given. Briefly, in Tennant, the guardian for a minor child, Roberta Tennant, brought a claim for wrongful death and the minor’s personal injuries stemming from a motor vehicle vs. motorcycle collision. The jury rendered a verdict in the wrongful death of Ricky A. Roberts, in favor of the defendant, Harvey C. Roys. The trial court denied the motion for new trial. The appellate court upheld these decisions.More specifically, on October 8, 1978, Roberts, riding his motorcycle was following Defendant Roys. Roberts attempted to pass Roys on the right hand side, leading to a collision. There was a factual disagreement as to how the collision occurred - whether Roys merged to the right into Roberts or not. The jury agreed with Roys and ruled against the wrongful death claim.
During the trial, the court chose to deny Plaintiff’s proposed jury instruction (among others) that a motorcycle is entitled to full use of a lane and no motor vehicle shall be driven to deprive any motorcycle full use of the lane. One of the reasons the trial court articulated in denying this instruction is the promulgation of WPI 70.06, the right to assume others will obey the law on the streets and highways. The court further opines the jury would have been misled by the instruction provided by the plaintiff. This proposed instruction added a heightened duty to Mr. Roys, and the court rejected this proposal. Tennant at 309.“Instructions are sufficient if they permit each party to argue his theory of the case, are not misleading, and when read as a whole they properly inform the jury of the applicable law.” Tennant at 308.
“Whether to give a certain jury instruction is within a trial court’s discretion and so is reviewed for abuse of discretion.” Fergen v Sestero, 182 Wn.2d 794, 346 P.3d 708 (2015). Furthermore, “The propriety of a jury instruction is governed by the facts of the particular case. (cites omitted) Jury Instructions are generally sufficient if they are supported by the evidence, allow each party to argue its theory of the case, and when read as a whole, properly inform the trier of fact of the applicable law.” Fergen, at 803. Thus, in summary, the trial court’s decision to provide a specific jury instruction will be reviewed on the abuse of discretion standard, and provided the jury will be assisted, and not misled, the jury instruction should be provided to them.

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