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A jury rightly applied the rules of the road in determining which of two snowmobilers was more negligent in a crash that killed one and left the other paralyzed, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled on July 26 . Roberts v. Estate of Randall, No. 00-77. The jury found the surviving driver, plaintiff Robert H. Roberts, to have been 74 percent at fault for the February 1998 crash, and thus ineligible to recover any of its $475,000 award. Affirming, the state’s highest court agreed with the trial court’s jury instruction that the violation of several Wyoming statutes, including Chapter Five of the state’s Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on Highways, should be considered as evidence of negligence by the snowmobile operators. The Wyoming high court said that the legislative intent with respect to snowmobiles was ascertainable by the inclusion of snowmobiles in the definitions of Chapter Five of the act governing motor vehicles, Wyoming’s “rules of the road,” and by the reference to snowmobiles in Article Eight of that chapter. Accordingly, the state was authorized to allow snowmobiling on the road in question, the court said, and snowmobiles operating on that road are subject to Chapter Five’s applicable provisions. Roberts collided with the late Steven Randall on a snowmobile trail in western Wyoming as both approached the crest of a hill from opposite directions. Roberts claimed that Randall’s left-of-center position on the trail forced him to swerve left because to his right was a 100-foot cliff. Roberts also claimed that Randall was speeding. Conversely, Randall’s estate claimed that Roberts was left-of-center while approaching the crest. The trial judge had told the jury that according to the subject statutes, motorists are to pass each other from the right, should not drive on the left side and should not speed. On appeal, Roberts argued that the jury charge was a mistake and that he was entitled to a new trial. He contended that Chapter Five was not meant to apply to groomed snowmobile trails because definitions in the first chapter of the act, which do not refer to Chapter Five, do not include snowmobiles. “The motor vehicle statutes shouldn’t apply because it doesn’t make sense,” asserted Mel C. Orchard III, the attorney for Roberts. “They [snowmobiles] don’t have tires, they don’t have double headlights.” The high court held that the sudden-emergency doctrine that Roberts urged it to adopt was inapplicable to this case because Roberts — who disobeyed the rules by concededly riding in the middle of the road — should have anticipated the accident. Had the doctrine applied, the exigencies of the situation would have been considered in determining his fault. But the high court disagreed with the trial court’s rationale that with the advent of the comparative-negligence statutes, the doctrine is no longer viable. It said that while the existence of an emergency is not an affirmative defense to negligence, it is one of the circumstances to be considered by the fact-finder in determining negligence. Southgate B. Freeman III, counsel for Randall’s estate, declined to comment.

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