Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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Plaintiff filed suit against DCFS and a private foster care agency, alleging claims of negligence and failure to perform statutorily mandated duties which resulted in sexual abuse by her foster mother's two sons. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of nonsuit and postjudgment awards of attorney fees, but reduced costs by $6,988.37. The court held that the trial court properly granted nonsuit, because plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to permit the jury to find in her favor. In this case, there was no evidence Children's Institute owed plaintiff a duty to protect her from the brothers because their sexual abuse was not foreseeable or imminent. Furthermore, the evidence presented by plaintiff was insufficient to permit a jury to find the county's breach of three mandatory duties was a proximate cause of her injuries. The court also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied leave to file a fifth amended complaint, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it awarded attorney fees for unreasonably denied requests for admission. Finally, the court modified the postjudgment order to reflect trial costs are additionally taxed for disallowed costs for investigative expenses. View "Doe v. Department of Children & Family Services" on Justia Law

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Williams, a musician, sued the Fremont Corners Shopping Center for negligence and premises liability after he was assaulted in its parking lot at about 1:30 a.m after performing in the Peacock Lounge in the shopping center. Fremont and Peacock asserted they were not aware of prior similar incidents; the shopping center had lighting and security cameras. Williams responded by offering records of service calls from the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, showing five calls for service to Fremont in the preceding year, including police reports of a simple assault, a battery with serious bodily injury, and a physical altercation with an unknown suspect, which resulted in the victim suffering a broken jaw. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of Fremont. The landowner had no duty to take affirmative measures, beyond those in the record, to discover criminal activity on the premises. Williams could not support his allegations that the assault was reasonably foreseeable. The evidence demonstrated that the owner was generally aware of the possibility of fights erupting at or near Peacock but a general knowledge of the possibility of violent criminal conduct is not in itself enough to create a duty under California law, Williams has not asserted what measures Fremont should have taken to prevent the harm that he endured. View "Williams v. Fremont Corners, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a flying mattress made plaintiff swerve on a freeway and crash at high speed, she filed suit against the company that failed to secure the mattress. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court misinstructed the jury regarding the excuse instruction, CACI 420. Because it was equally probable the jury found for the company on an erroneous excuse theory as it was that jurors found the company had no mattress, the court could not say that this error was not harmless. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded. The court noted that, on retrial, the trial court must give neither CACI 420 nor any other excuse instruction based on these facts. Furthermore, it would also be appropriate to include a question on a special verdict form, if one is used again, to isolate the jury's determination about whether the company did or did not break the secure-the-cargo law. View "Baker-Smith v. Skolnick" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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This case is one of several coordinated actions alleging that talcum powder products manufactured by defendants caused them to develop ovarian cancer. In 2017, bellwether plaintiff's case was tried to a jury on a single claim and the jury returned a verdict in her favor. Defendants filed motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) as to liability and punitive damages, as well as a joint motion for a new trial. After the trial court granted the motions, both sides appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the JNOV in favor of Johnson & Johnson, but partially reversed as to JJCI. The court held that there was no substantial evidence to support a finding of liability as to Johnson & Johnson, a parent company that stopped manufacturing Johnson's Baby Powder in 1967, several years before there were any investigations or studies about a link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. Furthermore, the evidence failed to support a finding of malice as required for a punitive damages award. The court affirmed the JNOV for JJCI on that ground, but held that there was substantial evidence to support the jury's other findings as to JJCI. The court reversed the JNOV in favor of JJCI as to liability, but affirmed the trial court's order granting JJCI's motion for a new trial. View "Echeverria v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from the death of appellants' son after he was struck and killed by a school bus while riding his bicycle. The jury found that the son was 80 percent liable for the accident, and awarded $250,000. Appellants raised numerous claims of error, but they have forfeited almost all of those claims. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that appellants failed to meet their duty of making a cognizable argument on appeal as to why the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion for a new trial and to support their arguments with accurate and relevant record citations. Therefore, appellants have waived any challenge to the denial of their motion for a new trial. Assuming for the sake of argument that appellants intended to raise the claims of error directly on appeal, the court would find almost all those claims forfeited as well, for similar reasons. The court also held that appellants' claims of evidentiary error, jury instructional error, and attorney misconduct were without merit. View "Hernandez v. First Student, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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SoCalGas pleaded no contest to a charge of failure to immediately report the release of a hazardous material, and obtained dismissal of other charges, including a count alleging the discharge of air contaminants. Petitioners, residents of the Porter Ranch community, sought to set aside the plea agreement and obtain restitution under the California Constitution, which gives victims the right to seek and secure restitution from the persons convicted of the crimes causing the losses they suffer. The trial court denied petitioners' motion to vacate the plea and require restitution. The Court of Appeal held that the Victim's Bill of Rights in the California Constitution, as amended in 2008 by Proposition 9, does not authorize a victim to appeal from a judgment or order in a criminal case. However, in those rare cases where the trial court fails in its duty to order restitution from the convicted wrongdoer to the victims of the crime, the victims may do what petitioners have done in this case by seeking a writ of mandate. The court held that the trial court did not fail in its duty when it refused to order restitution for all losses caused by the gas leak. The court declined to extend the right to restitution to dismissed charges that are "transactionally related" to the crime of which defendant was convicted. Although the court found no error in the trial court's conclusion that there was no evidence or proffer of evidence to establish that defendant's failure to report the gas leak for three days was a substantial factor in causing the harm victims suffered from the gas leak, the court remanded for a hearing on whether petitioners can prove damages from the three-day delay in reporting the leak, as charged in the criminal complaint. View "Crump v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Hernandez, age 11, was a passenger in a 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass that was involved in a head-on collision; she was seriously injured. Hernandez alleged that the Cutlass was not designed to be crashworthy and did not provide adequate protection to children riding in the back seat when the vehicle was involved in a frontal collision. Hernandez did not attempt to hold the manufacturer liable but sued Enterprise. Hernandez argued that a rental car company, NCRS, was strictly liable because NCRS placed the Oldsmobile “into the stream of commerce.” NCRS has sold its business in 1995 and, after a series of transactions, Enterprise became a successor in 2003. The case was stayed while Hernandez litigated an unsuccessful identical legal claim against other alleged NCRS affiliates. The trial court granted Enterprise summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed. Enterprise did not succeed to any liability NCRS would have had for Hernandez’s injuries. After the sale of NCRS’s assets plaintiffs such as Hernandez could have sought recourse against General Motors. In addition, one of the successor owners entered bankruptcy through no fault of the acquiring entities, so the subsequent owners do not come within an exception to the general rule against successor liability in an asset sale. View "Hernandez v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. of S.F." on Justia Law

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The court held that, in a contested case, a party (typically a defendant) seeking to reduce an award of future damages to present value bears the burden of proving an appropriate method of doing so, including an appropriate discount rate. A party (typically a plaintiff) who seeks an upward adjustment of a future damages award to account for inflation bears the burden of proving an appropriate method of doing so, including an appropriate inflation rate. The court held that this aligns the burdens of proof with the parties' respective economic interest and a trier of fact should not reduce damages to present value, or adjust for inflation, absent such evidence or a stipulation of the parties. In this case, substantial evidence supported the judgment, and the trial court did not err by declining to reduce future damages to present cash value and did not abuse its discretion in granting plaintiff's motion for prejudgment interest. View "Lewis v. Ukran" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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While Ethan Lomeli's guardian filed suit against medical care providers for his catastrophic birth injuries, Medi-Cal paid for his care before and during the lawsuit. After Lomeli settled with defendants, the Department moved to impose a lien on the settlement and the trial court granted the motion. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that federal law did not block the Department's lien. The court rejected Lomeli's analysis from the dissent in Tristani ex rel. Karnes v. Richman (3rd Cir. 2011) 652 F.3d 360, 379–387, and adopted the majority's holding that two provisions of the Social Security Act did not bar state Medicare liens. The court also held that collateral estoppel did not bar the lien and the court's lien calculation of $267,159.60 was correct. In this case, substantial evidence supported the trial court's reality-based approach to determine the reasonable value of plaintiff's pretrial claim. View "Lomeli v. State Department of Health Care Services" on Justia Law

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After Philip and Febi Mettias died from complications associated with mesothelioma, their children brought a wrongful death action against various defendants. The jury returned a special verdict in favor of Honeywell and Pep Boys, and plaintiffs appealed the verdict solely as to Pep Boys. The Court of Appeal held that any error in denying plaintiffs' request to instruct the jury pursuant to negligence instructions was harmless where it was not reasonably probable that a different result would have been reached. In this case, there was no evidence to support a theory of negligence against Pep Boys other than its alleged violation of its duty of care as a supplier of asbestos-containing brakes. The court also held that plaintiffs' contention that the trial court's oral reading of certain instructions was erroneous and prejudicial was without merit. View "Mettias v. The Pep Boys" on Justia Law