Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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In April 2018, Cavey filed a personal injury action for injuries sustained in a traffic accident involving a vehicle driven by a School District employee. Citing the six-month statute of limitations, Government Code 945.6,(a)(1), the trial court dismissed. The theory of untimeliness was based on the District’s July 19, 2017 notice rejecting a claim presented without Cavey’s authorization by a chiropractic firm that was treating her injuries, which, allegedly, started the statute of limitations.The court of appeal reversed. The claim submitted by the chiropractic firm was not presented “by a person acting on … her behalf” for purposes of section 910. The limitations period did not begin to run until the authorized claim submitted by Cavey’s lawyers was deemed rejected in November 2017. Using a November 2017 start date, the April 2018 complaint was timely under the six-month statute of limitations. In addition, the District’s notice of rejection was mailed to the wrong address, so the two-year statute of limitations in section 945.6(a)(2) applies. View "Cavey v. Tualla" on Justia Law

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Strobel, diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2019, died at age 68 in 2020. Strobel had sued for product liability, negligence, and fraud, alleging that continuous exposure to asbestos in J&J’s Baby Powder (JBP), a product he used regularly for 60 years, was a substantial contributing cause of his mesothelioma. J&J’s expert swore that JBP was at all relevant times asbestos-free. The Strobels filed declarations from five experts, all contradicting J&J’s experts. The court sustained J&J’s hearsay objections to much of the Strobels’ proffered expert testimony and concluded that, after the exclusion of this testimony, the Strobels could not bear their burden of proof on legal causation because what remained—opinions from Drs. Fitzgerald and Compton—only confirmed the presence of asbestos in the talcum ore J&J used to manufacture JBP, not in JBP offered for sale as a finished product during the years Strobel used it.The court of appeal reversed a judgment in favor of J&J. The Strobels presented sufficient admissible evidence on legal causation to create a triable issue. The court noted the evidence of long-term usage in this case and concluded that Fitzgerald fairly drew the inference that JBP dating from within the exposure period contained asbestos. View "Strobel v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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X.M., a student at Maple Elementary School, sued Hesperia Unified School District (HUSD), claiming he was sexually assaulted on campus by one of their employees. He sought treble damages under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, alleging his assault resulted from HUSD’s cover up of a prior sexual assault by the same employee. The trial court granted the school district’s motion to strike the increased damages request on the ground that treble damages under section 340.1 were primarily punitive and therefore barred by Government Code section 818. X.M. filed a petition for writ of mandate asking the Court of Appeal to vacate the trial court’s order and conclude section 818’s immunity did not apply to the treble damages provision at issue here. He argued the primary purpose of the provision is to compensate victims of childhood sexual assault for the additional harm caused by discovering their abuse could have been prevented if those entrusted with their care had responded differently to prior sexual assaults on their watch. In the alternative, he argues the provision’s primary purpose is to incentivize victims to come forward and file lawsuits. The Court concluded the primary purpose of section 340.1’s treble damages provision was punitive because it was designed to deter future cover ups by punishing past ones. "[T]he economic and noneconomic damages available under general tort principles are already designed to make childhood sexual assault victims whole ... It is the rare treble damages provision that isn’t primarily designed to punish and deter misconduct, and nothing in section 340.1 or its legislative history convinces us the Legislature intended the increased award to be more compensatory (or incentivizing) than deterrent." Further, the Court held that section 818’s immunity applied when the defendant was a public agency like HUSD. The Court therefore denied the petition. View "X.M. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Chase sexually assaulted aesthetician, plaintiff-respondent Kimberly Finlan during a facial treatment session at a resort spa. Finlan sued Chase, and in the course of litigating her personal injury action, she sent multiple letters offering to settle for $999,000. The letters stated that her offers were made pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 998, but said nothing about how the offers were to be accepted. Chase did not respond to these offers. Finlan prevailed at trial, receiving an award of $3,875,000. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review in this case centered on whether a simple reference to section 998 satisfied the acceptance provision requirement of the statute. The Court concluded it did not, based on settled caselaw. Further, the Court determined a valid acceptance provision required more than mere reference to a judgment; section 998 offers must provide some kind of instruction or indication as to how they can be accepted, utilizing a written acceptance that includes a signature from the offeree’s counsel or the unrepresented offeree. Accordingly, the section 998 offers in this case were not statutorily valid, and the trial court's postjudgment order was reversed to the extent it allowed plaintiff to recover costs and interest that could only be awarded based on defendant's failure to accept a legitimate section 998 offer. View "Finlan v. Chase" on Justia Law

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Barbara Green (Barbara) filed this wrongful death action after her son Jeffrey Green (Green) jumped from the roof of drug rehabilitation treatment facility Anaheim Lighthouse (Lighthouse), and ended his life. Lighthouse appealed the judgment following a jury verdict in Barbara’s favor. Specifically, it claimed the trial court committed reversible error by refusing to instruct the jury Green’s suicide was a superseding cause of harm and on premises liability. It also claimed the judgment should have been reversed because the court improperly allowed opinion testimony by an undisclosed rebuttal expert. After review, the Court of Appeal found no error and affirmed the judgment. View "Green v. Healthcare Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Wendy McKenzie was injured by a falling tree branch while jogging in Lower Bidwell Park, a municipal park owned by the City of Chico, California. She and her husband, Leslie McKenzie, real parties in interest, sued the City for personal injuries. The City sought a preemptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its denial of its motion for summary judgment and to grant the motion, arguing the trial court, in denying the motion, failed to recognize the City was immune from liability for injuries caused by a natural condition of unimproved public property, under Government Code section 831.2. The Court of Appeal concurred with the City and issued the requested writ. View "City of Chico v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Ryan Holman sued the County of Butte, California, the County of Butte Health and Human Services Department (Health and Human Services), and the County of Butte Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff’s Office) (collectively County) for negligence under a theory Health and Human Services and the Sheriff’s Office failed to perform mandatory duties under Government Code section 815.6 related to the investigation and reporting of allegations of child abuse perpetrated against plaintiff by his parents. The County demurred, contending plaintiff’s allegations were time barred by Code of Civil Procedure section 338(a). The question before the trial court was, and on appeal was whether the discovery was available to plaintiff to excuse his filing of his complaint after the statute of limitation had expired. The trial court agreed with the County that the discovery rule was unavailable when section 338(a) was the applicable statute of limitations. The Court of Appeal reversed: “The problem with the County’s argument is that, whether diligent or not, plaintiff brought his claim within three years of the triggering event, thus falling within the statute of limitations when the discovery rule is applied. The discovery rule postpones accrual of a cause of action until the plaintiff discovers, or has reason to discover, the cause of action. Once the cause of action accrues, the injured party still has the statute of limitations period to investigate the parameters of his or her claim. Because plaintiff filed his action within three years from when he had reason to know of his causes of action, his suit is timely.” View "Holman v. County of Butte" on Justia Law

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Maryam Hedayati appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club (Auto Club or the Club) on Hedayati’s breach of good faith and fair dealing claim. Hedayati suffered catastrophic injuries in October 2012 when Auto Club’s insured ran a red light and struck her in a pedestrian crosswalk. The insured driver immediately notified Auto Club of the accident and authorized the Club to disclose his policy limits ($25,000); he also informed Auto Club he had no other insurance or assets. Auto Club’s policy with its insured required him to relinquish to the Club his right to negotiate settlement of potential tort claims falling within the policy. When he inquired about a release, Auto Club inaccurately told its insured driver Hedayati was not willing to sign one. Despite repeated requests during settlement negotiations from Hedayati’s attorney, Auto Club initially declined to disclose the insured’s policy limits; eventually it acquiesced, but Auto Club still declined to provide written proof of those limits, which the Club knew was common practice to facilitate a settlement. Auto Club then withheld from Hedayati’s counsel the insured’s written declaration which indicated he had no other insurance, which the Club had confirmed, and the insured’s statements that he had no assets. Auto Club also, despite multiple requests from Hedayati’s lawyer, failed to provide a copy of its insured’s policy which Hedayati’s lawyer needed to verify its terms. Hedayati’s counsel had demanded a hard copy of the policy as a settlement condition. Auto Club ultimately failed to settle the matter within its $25,000 policy limits. Hedayati subsequently obtained a $26 million judgment against the insured driver, along with assignment of the insured’s claim against the Club for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implicit in its policy with him. The trial court concluded the evidence presented by Hedayati was insufficient as a matter of law. After its de novo review, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court’s evaluation of the evidence. It therefore reversed the summary judgment ruling and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hedayati v. Interinsurance Exchange of the Auto. Club" on Justia Law

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Qaadir was driving a truck for his employer when he was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer. Qaadir was traveling at approximately 10-15 mph and the other driver was traveling at approximately 45 mph. Both vehicles weighed about 33,000 pounds. Qaadir experienced leg and back pain, which prompted him to seek medical treatment under his health insurance plan. His continuing treatment included several surgical procedures and treatments from lien providers who did not accept his insurance plan. The medical bills from the lien providers remained unpaid at the time of trial in his suit for negligence. Qaadir was awarded $3,464,288: $282,288 past lost earnings; $532,00 past medical expenses; $900,000 future lost earnings; $500,000 future medical expenses; $500,000 past noneconomic loss; and $750,000 future noneconomic loss.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court erred and caused an excessive damages award by admitting evidence of the full unpaid medical bills and the medical bills paid by Qaadir’s insurance plan to prove his past and future medical damages; excluding testimony that Qaadir’s attorney referred him to the lien providers; and precluding the defendants from arguing Qaadir failed to mitigate his damages when he chose providers who did not accept his insurance. View "Qaadir v. Figueroa" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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After years of spraying Roundup herbicide on their property, Pilliod and her husband, Pilliod, each developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Pilliods sued Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer, alleging design defect and failure to warn. After a six-week trial, the jury awarded Alberta over $37 million in compensatory damages, awarded Alva over $18 million in compensatory damages, and awarded each of them $1 billion in punitive damages. The trial court conditionally denied Monsanto’s motion for new trial, contingent on the Pilliods’ acceptance of substantially reduced compensatory and punitive damages, resulting in a total award to Alberta of about $56 million (including about $45 million in punitive damages) and a total award to Alva of about $31 million (including about $25 million in punitive damages). The Pilliods accepted the reductions.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Monsanto’s arguments that the claims were preempted by federal law, the jury’s liability findings are not supported by substantial evidence, the jury was improperly instructed as to the Pilliods’ design defect claim, the jury’s causation findings are legally and factually flawed, the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain evidence, the verdict is the product of attorney misconduct, the punitive damages awards should be stricken or further reduced because they are unsupported by evidence and constitutionally excessive. View "Pilliod v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law