SETTLEMENT : Husband injured and wife killed when rear-ended by City maintenance truck
Can a driver be held responsible for an accident caused by sun glare and its resulting momentary blindness?
On January 15, 1995, Michael and Joyce Zitz-Evancich were stopped in 5:00 traffic on the transition road between westbound Simi Valley Freeway and southbound Golden State Freeway. The couple’s sedan was sitting in the second lane when a five-ton Department of Street Maintenance truck slammed into their rear-end. The truck driver later claimed sun glare caused momentarily blindness (sunset on that day would have occurred at approximately 5:07 p.m.). He asserted that that his temporary blindness caused the accident .
The force of the truck’s impact immediately killed Joyce, then 35-years-old. Michael Zitz-Evancich reportedly went into convulsions when paramedics arrived. The truck driver was found uninjured. Michael Zitz-Evancich was taken to Holy Cross Medical Center where doctors listed him as in serious condition and later determined he had suffered significant brain damage. Those personal injuries, and the traumatic death of his wife, completely altered the projection of his life.
Firm partner Larry Booth represented Zitz-Evancich alongside Johanna Hansen in a lawsuit against the city, owners of the maintenance truck and employers of the driver. Booth emphasized the negligence of the driver and the severity of the accident, saying, “The car was just mashed.”
The lawsuit filed against the city of Los Angeles sought financial reparations both for the wrongful death of Joyce Zitz-Evancich and for the personal injuries and emotional pain and suffering sustained by Michael Zitz-Evancich. Over a year after the accident, he continued to suffer from his injuries and required limited at-home care.
Deputy City Attorney Herbert Seiden represented the city in the case. While he did not discuss the details of the case publicly, the city argued that the fatal accident was not the truck driver’s fault due to his being momentarily blinded by the setting sun.
Sun glare is not an uncommon defense in these types of accidents as it is an easy and convenient means of covering up what is in truth a case of driver negligence. Several courts have outright rejected the defense of ‘sun glare’ holding that because sunrises and sunsets are a daily and natural occurrence, drivers should anticipate occasional sun glare during these time periods and act responsibly. In line with this, Booth and colleagues were able to successfully argue against this defense.
On June 25, 1996, the Los Angeles City council voted to settle the case out of court. They agreed to a $5 million settlement. Michael Zitz-Evancich accepted the council’s settlement.