Varcoe v. Lee
180 Cal. 338, 181 P. 223 (1919)

  • Nichols was driving Lee’s car, with Lee inside, when it ran over and killed Varcoe’s child.  Varcoe sued for wrongful death.
  • At trial, the judge instructed the jury that if they found that Nichols was going faster than 15 mph in a business district, then that was enough to find him negligent.
  • The Trial Court found Lee guilty of negligence and gave Varcoe a judgment of $5k. Lee appealed.
    • Lee argued that the location of the accident was not a ‘business district’.  Therefore it was improper for the judge to just assume that it was.
      • The speed limit for areas that aren’t business districts was higher.
        • This case was decided before the advent of street signs and posted speed limits.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that there was no dispute that the area of the accident was a business district.
      • That corner had a drug store, a barber shop, a saloon, and a haberdashery!
    • The Appellate Court found that the Trial Judge was entitled to take judicial notice of the character of one of the most important and best known street of the city.
      • The Appellate Court found that there were three requisites to determine if a fact can be assumed by the court:
        • The matter must be of common and general knowledge.
        • The matter must be established and authoritatively settled, not doubtful or uncertain.
        • The matter must be within the limits of the jurisdiction of the court.
  • Btw, the term judicial notice refers to a judicial short cut where the court assumes a fact and does away with the necessity of the litigants to prove the fact.
  • The case was decided under the common law.  Now it would be covered by FRE 201.