SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court, overturning a lower court's decision, ruled a man injured when a car struck a telephone booth in which he was making a call is entitled to sue the phone company for negligence.
In a 6-1 decision, the high court ruled the Pacific Telephone Co. failed to 'use due care' in placing the phone booth in which Charles Bigbee was injured in 1974 when an intoxicated drive lost control of her car and crashed into it.
'It seems evident that a jury could reasonably find that defendants should have foreseen the possibility of the very accident which actually occurred,' Chief Justice Rose Bird wrote for the majority.
Bigbee was making a late call from a phone booth 15 feet from Century Boulevard in Inglewood, a busy thoroughfare, when the car struck him.
Bigbee sued driver Leona Roberts and the firms allegedly responsible for serving her alcholic beverages and a settlement was reached.
He also sued the telephone company and three other firms for alleged negligence in the design, location, installation and maintenance of the booth.
Bigbee asserted that the door jammed on the booth preventing him from escaping as he saw the car coming at him. He also charged an accident occurred 20 months earlier at the same booth and the phone company should have known the booth was in a potentially dangerous location.
'Swift traffic on a major thoroughfare late at night is to be expected. Regrettable, so too are intoxicated drivers,' the chief justice wrote.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Kroninger, temporarily sitting on the high court, dissented. He said 'public telephones have... long been maintained adjacent to streets and highways for the convenience of the public, despite obvious but remote risks.'
The ruling overturned a decision by the Los Angeles Superior Court, which dismissed the suit on grounds the driver was the primary cause of the accident and the other defendants could not have foreseen the accident and were not negligent.
The Supreme Court sent the case back for trial to allow a jury to decide the question of whether the companies could have foreseen the risk.