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Tort Law- Jury Instructions for Violations of Traffic Laws as Indicator of Negligence Per Se

August 5, 2020

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals considered the jury instruction that a violation of an applicable traffic regulation would constitute negligence per se in the recent opinion of Sibert-Dean v. WMATA.  Although WMATA had originally proposed the per se instruction, it objected to those same instructions just prior to jury instruction.  Evidently, the jury had heard testimony that WMATA’s bus driver had been “distracted by attractive women” before pulling away from the bus stop, and WMATA sought to revise the per se instructions referencing traffic regulations of proper driver attention to operation of the vehicle.
Upon consideration of WMATA’s motion for a new trial (which contested only two of the seven traffic regulations in the negligence per se instruction)  the Court of Appeals reiterated that unexplained violations of traffic regulations may constitute negligence per se in the District of Columbia. Contrary to WMATA’s contention that some regulations warranted a per se instruction while others did not, the Court held that the two at issue (18 DCMR §§ 2213.4 and 2206.1) were just as specific as the other five and thus properly incorporated into the negligence per se instruction. Moreover, even if the jury had been instructed with an “evidence of negligence” instruction, they would most likely have reached the same verdict. Accordingly,  the Court of Appeals upheld the instructions and denied WMATA’s motion for new trial. Sibert-Dean v. WMATA.