Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Lopez was diagnosed with epithelioid mesothelioma with a deciduoid pattern at the age of 59. He died from his disease at the age of 61. The physician who diagnosed him believed his mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos. His survivors sued Hillshire, a sugar refinery that used a great deal of asbestos insulation. The plaintiffs argued that Lopez had been exposed to asbestos as a child in three ways when his father worked at the refinery owned by Hillshire’s predecessor: he visited his father and grandfather at the refinery itself several times; he lived from 1954-1964 in a company-owned town, where asbestos drifted from the refinery; and his father inadvertently brought asbestos from the refinery into the family home. The jury awarded plaintiffs $1,958,461 in economic damages and a total of $11 million in noneconomic damages but did not award punitive damages. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Hillshire’s challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, the jury instructions given, and the failure of the jury to apportion any fault to the companies that manufactured asbestos used in the refinery. View "Lopez v. Hillshire Brands Co." on Justia Law

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School bus driver Colleen Knowles sought workers' compensation from her employer, Mountain Empire Unified School District (the District). The District was a self-insured employer under the workers' compensation scheme, and its workers' compensation claims were administered through the San Diego County Schools Risk Management Joint Powers Authority (JPA). JPA purchased excess workers' compensation insurance to cover claims exceeding a set retention. The District was an additional insured under those policies. When a dispute over compensation arose, Knowles and the District petitioned the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB). An administrative law judge ultimately approved their stipulation that Knowles suffered a "specific" injury in 2003. The distinction between a "cumulative" and a "specific" injury was pertinent for determining which of JPA's excess insurance policies was triggered. As JPA's excess insurer during the stipulated injury date, Kemper Insurance Company (Kemper) indemnified JPA until it went insolvent. JPA then approached California Insurance Guarantee Association (CIGA), a statutorily created insolvency insurer of last resort, to make up what Kemper had failed to pay. CIGA was only obligated to pay "covered claims," defined to exclude claims for which other insurance was available. On this basis CIGA denied coverage, claiming Knowles suffered a cumulative injury, which meant that JPA might recover from a different excess insurer (other than Kemper). CIGA sued JPA and the District (collectively, defendants) for declaratory relief, asserting that because Knowles suffered a cumulative injury, JPA's claim was not a "covered claim." In their cross-complaint, defendants sought reimbursement from CIGA of benefit payments made to Knowles after Kemper went insolvent. The Court of Appeal concluded that based on the purpose of excess insurance, the superior court had jurisdiction to characterize Knowles's injury in this action differently than was reflected in the WCAB stipulation. The Court reversed the judgment and directed the trial court to enter a new order denying defendants' JPA and the District's motions for summary judgment. View "Cal. Ins. Guarantee Assn. v. San Diego County Schools etc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff walked into a round concrete pillar called a bollard, she filed suit against the City, alleging that it created a dangerous condition that caused her to trip and fall. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment against plaintiff, holding that the City successfully invoked the design immunity defense. The court held that there was discretionary approval of the design before construction, and there was substantial evidence of the reasonableness of the public entity's approval of the design. In this case, the bollard was big, designed to stop cars, and was obvious to pedestrians who looked where they were going. View "Dobbs v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Plaintiffs filed suit against their taekwondo coach, Marc Gitelman, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), USA Taekwondo (USAT), and others arising from Gitelman's sexual abuse of plaintiffs when they were minors. The Court of Appeal held that USAT had a duty to implement and enforce policies and procedures to protect youth athletes from foreseeable sexual abuse by their coaches. Because USAT demurred on the direct negligence cause of action based solely on the lack of a duty of care, the court reversed the trial court's dismissal of this cause of action against USAT. However, USOC did not owe a duty to plaintiffs because it did not have a special relationship with Gitelman or plaintiffs. The court reasoned that, although USOC had the ability to control USAT, including requiring it to adopt policies to protect youth athletes, it did not have direct control over the conduct of coaches. Plaintiffs' remaining claims failed. The court affirmed the judgment dismissing USOC and reversed the judgment of dismissal as to USAT, remanding for further proceedings. View "Brown v. USA Taekwondo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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In November 2011, John suffered a seizure while driving a Tacoma truck and struck a car occupied by the decedents. The Tacoma was jointly owned by John and his father, David. When they purchased the truck, in 2005, John, then 26, made the down payment. David co-signed the loan and made some payments. The truck was registered in both names. David paid for insurance and registration. John had sole possession of the keys and was the only driver. David was aware, no later than June 2011, that John suffered from a seizure disorder and that John had lost consciousness and control of his body at least once. David took no action to dissuade John from driving, such as canceling the Tacoma’s insurance. The decedents’ survivors sued both men. As to David, they alleged negligent entrustment. The jury found David knew or should have known that John was “incompetent or unfit to drive”; that David permitted John to drive the Tacoma; and that David’s permitting John to drive the Tacoma was a substantial factor in causing the deaths. The jury allocated 90 percent of fault to John and 10 percent to David. The court entered a judgment against David for $388,400. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting challenges to the jury instructions, to the sufficiency of the evidence, and to the admission of evidence that David owned a construction company. View "Ghezavat v. Harris" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Defendants appealed a jury award to the deceased's four children for $11,250,000 each in noneconomic damages. Defendant Jimenez killed the children's mother while driving drunk and Defendant Rodriguez negligently entrusted her car to Jimenez. The court affirmed and held that the verdict did not shock the conscience under the facts of the case where the deceased was a single mother who was individually close to each child and they were a tight-knit family unit. The court rejected defendants' contention that plaintiffs' trial counsel preconditioned the jury to award high damages where the jury awarded much less than the $50 million per plaintiff, the trial court instructed the jury that no specific amount was yet before it, and the jury was otherwise properly instructed on damages. The court held that evidence of Jimenez's prior DUI was not inflammatory in light of the other evidence. The court rejected Rodriguez's contention that plaintiffs improperly engaged the passions of the jury by setting a theme of punishment, and rejected defendants' claims regarding the apportionment of damages and the 998 offer and prejudgment interest. View "Fernandez v. Jimenez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment in an action brought by plaintiff after she tripped on a step in defendants' garage. The court held that plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of material fact with respect to breach of duty and the trial court properly granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. In this case, plaintiff failed to establish a discernible feature of the garage steps that would notify defendants of an unreasonable risk of harm or any prior incidents that would alert defendants to the existence of a dangerous condition. The court also held that the facts of the present case did not give rise to an application of negligence per se. Furthermore, the presence of a building code violation did not automatically render defendants at fault, where the violations were relatively minor. View "Jones v. Awad" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Damian Richard appealed an order denying in part his special motion to strike Alan Hicks's complaint for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hicks was a principal of a Catholic elementary and middle school; Richard was the husband of one the school's teachers and a parent of children who attended the school. The complaint arose from Richard's role in prompting the Diocese of San Diego (Diocese) to remove Hicks from his school principal position. According to Richard, Hicks asked Richard to serve on the school's advisory board. At an advisory board meeting in the fall of the 2015-2016 school year, Hicks informed the advisory board he wanted to allow the producers of a television show to film the show on the school's campus. Richard expressed his belief the school should not be affiliated with the show because the show was intended for mature audiences due to its sexual nature and conduct. At a fundraiser in the spring of that same school year, Hicks revisited the topic with Richard. During their discussion, Hicks said he had previously permitted a motorcycle dealership to use the school's campus for a photoshoot and had received complaints because of the pornographic nature of the photographs taken. Later in the summer, Hicks asked Richard to serve as the chair of the advisory board for the 2016-2017 school year and Richard accepted the post. In that role and during that school year, Richard received complaints from parents, teachers, and other board members about Hicks. The complaints included concerns about Hicks's poor leadership, mismanagement of the school, frequent inappropriate comments to and about students and female staff, and advocacy for a curriculum Richard and other parents did not believe was in the best interest of the students or the school. In the winter of the 2016-2017 school year, the advisory board investigated complaints, which were corroborated by employees and parents. Richard and the other parents then sent a letter to the bishop of the Diocese. Richard contended the Court of Appeal had to reverse that part of the trial court's order denying his anti-SLAPP motion because, among other reasons, the court erred in deciding the common interest privilege did not apply to bar Hicks's claims. The Court agreed with this contention, and reversed. The matter was remanded back to the trial court with directions to vacate the order, to enter a new order granting the motion and striking Hicks's complaint, and to determine the amount of attorney fees and costs to award Richard under California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16(c)(1). View "Hicks v. Richard" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-respondent Carra Crouch was 13 years old when she was drugged and raped by a 30-year-old employee of the Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, Inc. (TCC). The assault took place while plaintiff was in Atlanta participating in a TCC-sponsored telethon. When Carra returned to California, she and her mother, Tawny Crouch, went to see Carra’s grandmother, Jan Crouch, who was a TCC officer and director and was responsible for overseeing the telethon. When Tawny explained to Jan what had happened to Carra in Atlanta, Jan flew into a tirade and yelled at Carra that she was stupid, it was really her fault, and she was the one who allowed it to happen. Based on Jan’s conduct, the jury awarded Carra $2 million in damages (later remitted to $900,000) against TCC on her cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The jury found that Jan was acting within her authority as an officer or director of TCC when she yelled at Carra. TCC appealed, challenging the judgment and the trial court’s orders overruling its demurrer to Carra’s first amended complaint and denying its motions for summary adjudication, nonsuit, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), and a new trial. At each stage of the trial court proceedings, and again on appeal, TCC argued that Jan’s conduct was not extreme or outrageous but was just a grandmotherly scolding or irascible behavior. According to TCC, Carra endured nothing more than insults, petty indignities, and annoyances. The Court of Appeal concluded Jan’s behavior toward Carra was sufficiently extreme and outrageous to impose liability for IIED. “Yelling at 13-year-old girl who had been drugged and raped that she was stupid and she was at fault exceeds all possible bounds of decency.” The Court concluded the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s finding Jan acted within the scope of her authority as an officer of TCC, and therefore, supported respondeat superior liability against TCC. View "Crouch v. Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, Inc." on Justia Law

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In a dispute between the parties that started over a disabled parking space, Dennis Ross filed a complaint with police stating that plaintiff Diann Davis vandalized his car. Davis entered a plea of no contest to misdemeanor vandalism in 2016. She then the underlying complaint here against Dennis Ross both as an individual and as a trustee of his revocable trust, alleging false imprisonment, fraud, libel, slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and abuse of process. Twenty months later, at the outset of trial, the court granted Ross’s motion for judgment on the pleadings premised on the litigation privilege (Civ. Code, section 47), entering a judgment of dismissal in October 2017. The court subsequently denied Davis’s motion for a new trial premised on a spoliation exception to the litigation privilege that Davis had already presented in opposition to the motion for judgment on the pleadings. Davis then filed a notice of appeal in January 2018. Before the Court of Appeal Davis again attempted to press the spoliation exception to the litigation privilege. After preliminary review of the briefing, the Court solicited supplementary analysis from the parties to account for the effect, if any, of Davis’s plea of no contest, and whether sanctions for a frivolous appeal were warranted. The Court of Appeal affirmed: the underlying suit was not premised on the tort of intentional spoliation. "At best, Davis is contending that she was deprived of the use in evidence of Ross’s vehicle in an unaltered state in defending against his criminal complaint against her. But it was Davis’s choice to plead no contest to the vandalism charge against her rather than raise her present claim of intentional spoliation of evidence in Ross’s exclusive control as providing a reasonable doubt as to her guilt." The Court found the spoliation exception to the litigation privilege did not have any application to Davis' action. View "Davis v. Ross" on Justia Law