Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Plaintiff Darren Hulbert, a self-represented indigent inmate, appealed the dismissal of his medical malpractice suit Richard Cross, M.D. Dr. Cross performed a radial head resection and arthroplasty on Hulbert’s right elbow. Hulbert alleged that Dr. Cross negligently failed to tighten a screw in the implant, which resulted in the screw coming loose and damaging Hulbert’s elbow joint, cartilage, and surrounding tissue. To help establish his claim, Hulbert filed a motion for appointment of legal counsel and a medical expert. The trial court denied the motion and subsequently found that Hulbert could not rebut the declaration of Dr. Cross’s medical expert without providing medical expert evidence of his own. On this basis, the trial court granted Dr. Cross’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Hulbert contended: (1) he was deprived of meaningful access to the courts because the trial court denied him the assistance of a medical expert while requiring a medical expert to establish a triable issue of material fact; (2) the trial court failed to exercise its discretion by considering all of the remedies available to ensure that he had meaningful access to the courts; (3) the trial court erred in determining there was no triable issue of material fact because the loose screw itself did not prove medical negligence; (4) the trial court erred in refusing to appoint legal counsel; (5) Dr. Cross did not provide informed consent prior to the procedure; (6) the declaration by Dr. Cross’s medical expert was insufficient to overcome a presumption of negligence because Dr. Cross’s operation notes failed to show compliance with the implant manufacturer’s instructions. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial did not properly exercise informed discretion with respect to ensuring access to the courts when it denied Hulbert’s motion for appointment of a medical expert. The trial court’s statement that it lacked authority to appoint legal counsel required remand to allow the trial court to consider and clarify which remedies were appropriate in this case to protect Hulbert’s right to meaningful access to the court. View "Hulbert v. Cross" on Justia Law

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Marie Sales appealed after a trial court granted summary judgment on her wrongful death and related state law claims arising from the death of her 19-year-old son, Paul Quintanar. The trial court concluded Sales failed to timely file her complaint in state court after the federal district court entered judgment against her on her federal claims, and withdrew supplemental jurisdiction over her state law claims in an earlier federal complaint she had filed. The trial court was persuaded that the 30-day safe harbor in which to refile state law claims afforded by 28 U.S.C. 1367(d) began to run from the date of the federal district court’s judgment, rather than after Sales’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit. On appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded settled law established that section 1367(d)’s tolling provisions extended “‘through appeal to the courts of appeals afforded as a matter of statutory right.’” Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sales v. City of Tustin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Dora Leon’s husband, José Leon, was shot and killed by a neighbor in a driveway of a mobile home park in Cherry Valley, where Dora and José lived. Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies unsuccessfully attempted to revive José but, before doing so, one of the deputies dragged José’s body several feet and, in the process of being dragged, José’s pants fell to his thighs, exposing his genitals. José’s body lay, with his genitals exposed, for around eight hours while sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers evacuated the mobile home park, located the shooter who had shot himself dead, and continued investigating the shooting. José’s body was not removed until shortly after the coroner arrived on the scene and completed processing the body. Dora sued the County of Riverside, alleging a single cause of action for negligence, sounding in negligent infliction of emotional distress, based on the failure of Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies to promptly cover José’s exposed body, or remove the body from the scene, while deputies evacuated the park, searched for the shooter, and investigated the shooting. The trial court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment on Dora’s first amended complaint (FAC). Dora argued on appeal that the deputies who responded to the shooting, and the county as the deputies’ employer, owed Dora a duty of care not to allow José’s body to lie exposed while deputies and other law enforcement officers secured the area and investigated the shooting. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding that negligence, if any, occurred during the court of the deputies’ official investigation of the shooting. For this reason, they were immune from liability to Dora, and the counts, as the deputies’ public entity employer, was immune from vicarious liability for the deputies’ alleged negligence. View "Leon v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

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Cross-complainants and appellants Antonio Arriagarazo and Alicia Rodriguez de Arriaga accepted an offer to compromise their wrongful death suit against cross-defendants-respondents BMW of North America and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 998,1 agreeing to sign a general release in exchange for monetary payment. Judgment was entered on the compromise, however the trial court subsequently vacated the judgment as void on the ground that BMW’s section 998 offer purportedly did not contemplate entry of judgment. Appellants contended the trial court erred in vacating judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed with appellants and reversed the trial court’s order. View "Arriagarazo v. BMW of North America, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sekayi White was an incarcerated and self-represented plaintiff who filed suit after his criminal defense lawyer, respondent Michael Molfetta, failed to respond to repeated requests for his case file. Having exhausted all avenues of direct state appeal of his conviction, White wanted to use the file to help him prepare petitions for collateral habeas relief. Molfetta received White’s letters, but believed he was prohibited from producing the file because it included protected materials. Instead of explaining the problem directly to his former client and producing the unprotected parts of the file, Molfetta effectively ignored the letters. Molfetta produced the file, minus protected materials, only after being ordered to do so by the trial judge in the underlying litigation here. By the time of the production, White’s deadline to file a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus had expired; his petition in the state court was also denied. White sued to recoup the money he spent reconstructing the file, later asking for emotional distress damages. He got neither. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment in Molfetta’s favor, “but we publish in the hope the embarrassment we feel about the case can lead to improvement. … absent a miscarriage of justice (of which we have no evidence here) our moral and professional assessments, however deeply felt, cannot create a cause of action in tort. As explained herein, we must agree with the trial court: White failed to adequately plead and prove injury from Molfetta’s wrongful behavior.” View "White v. Molfetta" on Justia Law

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Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 authorizes an award of “up to treble damages” in a tort action for childhood sexual assault where the assault occurred “as the result of a cover-up.” Government Code section 818 exempts a public entity from an award of damages “imposed primarily for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”Plaintiff sued the school district (LAUSD) alleging an LAUSD employee sexually assaulted her when she was 14 years old and the assault resulted from LAUSD’s cover-up of the employee’s sexual assault of another student. She requested treble damages under section 340.1. The trial court denied LAUSD’s motion to strike the damages request. The court of appeal reversed. While the harm caused by childhood sexual assault is undoubtedly amplified if a victim learns the assault resulted from a deliberate cover-up by those charged with the victim’s care, noneconomic damages under general tort principles already provide compensation for this added psychological trauma. The treble damages provision has no compensatory function. Section 340.1 generally serves to ensure perpetrators of sexual assault are held accountable for the harm they inflict but its text unambiguously demonstrates the treble damages provision’s purpose is to deter future cover-ups by punishing past cover-ups. Because treble damages under section 340.1 are primarily exemplary and punitive, a public entity like LAUSD maintains sovereign immunity from liability for such damages. View "Los Angeles Unified School District v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against Copeland and others, alleging that the companies exposed plaintiff to asbestos that caused him to develop mesothelioma. After the jury found Copeland liable, it apportioned 60 percent of the fault for plaintiff's harm, and awarded, among other damages, $25 million in noneconomic damages.The Court of Appeal held that the defendant has the burden at trial to show the percentage of fault attributable to other parties who may have contributed to causing the plaintiff's harm and that Copeland has not met its burden on appeal to show as a matter of law the evidence compelled an apportionment of fault more favorable to Copeland. The court also held that the trial court, in denying Copeland's motion for a new trial, did not err under Code of Civil Procedure sections 657 and 658 in declining to consider a spreadsheet created by Copeland's attorneys that presented a survey and comparative analysis of verdicts in California asbestos cases over a recent five-year period. Finally, the court concluded that substantial evidence supported the jury's award of noneconomic damages. View "Phipps v. Copeland Corporation LLC" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff decided to jaywalk across a five-lane highway at night and was struck by a car, she filed suit against the owner of a condominium complex she was trying to visit, alleging claims for negligence and premises liability for having too few onsite parking spaces for guests.The Court of Appeal held that a landowner does not owe a duty of care to invitees to provide adequate onsite parking, either (1) under common law principles or (2) by virtue of a 1978 city ordinance that rezoned the complex's specific parcel for multifamily dwellings and conditioned that rezoning on providing a specific number of guest parking spaces. The court explained that a landowner's common law duty of care does not encompass a duty to provide onsite parking for invitees in order to protect them from traffic accidents occurring off site as they travel to the premises, and the court did so for two reasons: (1) such a duty is foreclosed by precedent, and (2) even if not foreclosed, the so-called Rowland factors counsel against such a duty. The court rejected plaintiff's claims under Ordinance No. 151, 411 for two reasons: (1) the ordinance is a parcel-specific ordinance adopted as the final step of a multistep administrative procedure and is therefore incapable of forming the basis for a duty of care, and (2) the guest parking condition of the ordinance was aimed at preserving the aesthetic character of the surrounding neighborhood, and not at protecting invitees from traffic accidents. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the condominium complex. View "Issakhani v. Shadow Glen Homeowners Ass'n., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Amazon for injuries she suffered from an allegedly defective hoverboard she purchased from a third party seller named TurnUpUp on Amazon's website. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Amazon.The Fourth District recently addressed this issue as a matter of first impression in Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 431 (Bolger), review denied November 18, 2020, holding that Amazon is an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise that should bear the cost of injuries resulting from defective products.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and concluded that Bolger properly applied a well-established strict liability law to the facts of its case and was correctly decided. Based on the court's review of Amazon's third-party business model under the Business Solutions Agreement (BSA), the court is persuaded that Amazon's own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California's strict liability doctrine. Although the court concluded that Amazon is a link in the vertical chain of distribution, the court nevertheless recognizes that e-commerce may not neatly fit into a traditional sales structure. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court concluded that there exists a triable issue of material fact as to liability under the stream of commerce approach and thus the trial court erroneously granted summary adjudication on the strict liability claim. The court rejected Amazon's contention that it was merely a service provider and thus not strictly liable for plaintiff's injuries. Furthermore, the court was not persuaded by Amazon's reliance on those decisions that restrict strict liability to sellers or manufacturers by applying out-of-state law. The court also concluded that policy considerations underlying the doctrine are furthered by imposing strict products liability in this case. Finally, summary adjudication was improperly granted as to the negligent products liability claim where Amazon provides no legal support for its argument that negligent products liability may only be imposed on manufacturers and sellers. View "Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, consisting of the estate of decedent Edward William Kuntz (decedent), his wife, and his three children, sued, among others, the Kaiser Foundation Hospital and the Permanente Medical Group, Inc. (collectively Kaiser), asserting causes of action sounding in elder abuse, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death. Kaiser filed a petition to stay the action and compel arbitration. The trial court granted the petition as to the elder abuse cause of action, staying the other causes of action. Ultimately, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Kaiser. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing: (1) Kaiser failed to satisfy its burden of producing a valid agreement to arbitrate; and (2) Kaiser failed to comply with the mandatory requirements of Health and Safety Code section 1363.1 concerning the disclosure of arbitration requirements. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Kuntz v. Kaiser Foundation Hospital" on Justia Law