Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Appellant Marivel Santos was employed by respondent Crenshaw Manufacturing, Inc. (Crenshaw) in January 2017 as a machine operator on the production floor. Santos alleged that sometime in the second week of January 2017, she was instructed by her supervisor, Jose Flores, to operate a material-forming machine utilizing a die without any protective guards or cages. Ordinarily, Santos would have had to use both hands to operate the machine. This time, however, Flores instructed her to operate it “from the side using a bypass button.” Using the machine in this manner allowed Santos to operate the machine with her right hand, leaving her left hand free to reach into the machine to “press down the part” being cut. On January 12, 2017, Santos was operating the machine in this fashion when her left hand was crushed underneath the die, mutilating and severely injuring it. She filed a workers’ compensation claim against Crenshaw, and the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) investigated. In the 1980s, the California Legislature passed Labor Code section 4558's “power press exception” to the principle of workers’ compensation exclusivity, giving a right of action to employees injured by their employer’s knowing removal of or failure to install a point of operation guard on a power press when required by the manufacturer. In this case, the issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether the power press exception applied when the manufacturer, 45 years prior to passage of the law, conveyed a more general requirement for guards which went completely unheeded by the present user. Under these unique circumstances, the Court concluded there were triable issues of material fact as to whether the employer violated the statute and reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in the employer’s favor. View "Santos v. Crenshaw Manufacturing, Inc." on Justia Law

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Stephanie Koussaya was taken hostage, along with two other women, by three armed bank robbers, Alex Martinez, Jaime Ramos, and Gilbert Renteria, Jr., used as a human shield in order to facilitate the robbers’ escape from the bank. The hostages were forced into a Ford Explorer belonging to one of the hostages, Kelly Huber. A high-speed chase with law enforcement followed. Huber was pushed out of the moving vehicle after Ramos shot her in the leg. For Koussaya and the other hostage, Misty Holt-Singh, the pursuit lasted for more than an hour, reaching speeds of over 100 miles per hour, and included exchanges of gunfire between Martinez, who was firing an AK-47 assault rifle out of the back of the Explorer, and two Stockton Police Department (SPD) officers. Koussaya ultimately decided her best chance at surviving the ordeal was to open one of the rear side doors and throw herself from the moving vehicle: she believed that if she did not jump from the vehicle she would be killed by the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team when the chase inevitably came to an end. Minutes after Koussaya’s escape, the chase did come to an end, at which point police officers fired several hundred rounds into the Explorer, killing two of the robbers and the remaining hostage. Having sustained serious injuries during her escape from the Explorer, Koussaya sued the City of Stockton and its police department (collectively, the City), as well as two officers, asserting causes of action for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), and general negligence. The City and officer defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motions and entered judgment in favor of defendants. Koussaya appealed. The Court of Appeal, after review, affirmed the trial court. Though the Court found the trial court abused its discretion in ruling on an evidentiary matter and also misapplied the Government Claims Act to improperly limit the scope of Koussaya’s claims, taking into account the improperly excluded evidence and properly viewing the factual basis of her claims against the officer defendants and the City, the Court determined each defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. View "Koussaya v. City of Stockton" on Justia Law

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Wagon Wheel Canyon Loop Trail (the Trail) is located in Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park (the Park), a public park owned and operated by Orange County, California. Before the incident at issue in this case, a wooden lodgepole fence ran perpendicularly across the mid-point of the eastern half of the Trail loop, serving as an entrance and exit for the Trail, and created a physical barrier cyclists had to maneuver around when riding either north or south on the Trail. Plaintiff Sean Nealy “had ridden his bicycle on and along [the Trail] several times in the past, [and] knew of the existence of the [perpendicular] wooden lodgepole fence." At some point unknown to plaintiff, the lodgepole fence was replaced with new fencing, which consisted of wooden fenceposts or “pylons” between which were strung horizontally, gray colored wire cables. Like the original lodgepole fence, the new perpendicular fence “divided” the southern and northern portions of the Trail loop, “separating each direction of travel.” However, the new fence actually ended before it reached the boundary of the Trail, and there was an opening between the fence’s western-most post and the parallel fencing at the western edge of the Trail. Plaintiff, an experienced cyclist, was riding his bicycle on the Trail. He noticed the lodgepole fence had been removed, but did not see the wire cables strung between the new fenceposts. He mistakenly believed he could ride between the fenceposts, but instead, rode directly into the wire cables, where he was thrown over the handlebars and onto the ground, resulting in serious injuries. He sued the County, alleging (1) Negligence (Premises Liability)”; and “(2) Dangerous Condition of Public Property.” County demurred, asserting plaintiff’s claims were barred both by Government Code section 831.4’s “trail immunity” and section 831.7’s “hazardous activity immunity.” The trial court sustained the demurrer based on trail immunity, finding the new fencing was a “condition” of the Trail for which County was statutorily immune. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Nealy v. County of Orange" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order denying plaintiffs' request for entry of a default judgment and dismissing their wrongful death action against the terrorist organization Al Shabaab. This action stemmed from Al Shabaab's murder of 148 students in their dormitories at Garissa University in Kenya, including 21-year-old Angela Nyokabi Githakwa.The court held that the trial court did not violate the Githakwa Parties' due process rights by determining that it lacked jurisdiction over Al Shabaab. In this case, the trial court provided the Githakwa parties adequate notice and an opportunity to address personal jurisdiction. Furthermore, the trial court correctly concluded that it lacked personal jurisdiction over Al Shabaab where Al Shabaab is not subject to the trial court's general jurisdiction and the trial court lacked specific jurisdiction over Al Shabaab for the Garissa University attack. View "Brue v. Al Shabaab" on Justia Law

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In 2014, plaintiff-respondent Keith Burchell underwent what was supposed to be a simple, outpatient procedure to remove a small mass in his scrotum for testing. His surgeon, Dr. Gary Barker, discovered that the mass was more extensive than expected, believing the mass was malignant. Without consulting either Burchell (who was under anesthesia) or the person Burchell had designated as his medical proxy, Barker removed the mass from both the scrotum and the penis, a different and substantially more invasive procedure than had been contemplated. Burchell suffered serious side effects, some of which are permanent and irreversible. The mass turned out to be benign. Burchell brought suit, alleging professional negligence and medical battery. A jury returned a verdict for Burchell on both causes of action, awarding him $4 million in past noneconomic damages and $5.25 million in future noneconomic damages against Dr. Barker and defendant-appellant Faculty Physicians & Surgeons of the Loma Linda University School of Medicine (FPS). On appeal, FPS argued the award of noneconomic damages should have been reduced to the $250,000 limit on such damages in “any action for injury against a health care provider based on professional negligence” provided by Civil Code section 3333.2(a), part of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA). In the alternative, FPS argued the award of noneconomic damages was excessive and the product of improper argument by Burchell’s counsel, so the Court of Appeal should reverse and remand for new trial unless Burchell accepts a reduction of the award to an amount we deem reasonable. Finally, FPS argued Burchell’s offer to compromise pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 998 was invalid, so the award of expert witness fees and prejudgment interest should also be reversed. After review, the Court of Appeal rejected FPS' first two arguments, but concurred that Burchell’s section 998 offer was invalid, and therefore reversed the award of expert witness fees and prejudgment interest. View "Burchell v. Faculty Physicians & Surgeons etc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Richard and Susan Marshall sued for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, alleging that defendant Daniel Webster made maliciously false and defamatory statements about them in an electronic book and on social media. They alleged that defendant, a reporter and author, maliciously and with reckless disregard for the truth, published false statements about them, their political activities, and about a lawsuit they filed against the town in which they live. These statements, which appeared on Facebook, and in an electronic book available on Amazon’s Kindle service and on eBay, were alleged to have caused them severe emotional distress and damaged their reputations in the community. The trial court granted defendant’s special motion to strike the complaint pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, California’s anti-SLAPP statute. The court’s order provided that defendant was entitled to attorney fees under the statute and, in August 2018, it awarded him $79,000 in fees. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the dismissal of their complaint and the award of attorney fees. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court’s order granting defendant’s special motion to strike the complaint was a final determination of the rights of the parties, thus constituting a judgment from which plaintiffs failed timely to perfect an appeal. With respect to the attorney fees order, the Court found no abuse of discretion and affirmed. View "Marshall v. Webster" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Plaintiff filed suit against Starbucks after she spilled a cup of hot tea she purchased from a Starbucks store and suffered second degree burns, alleging causes of action for products liability and negligence.The Court of Appeal affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment, holding that any alleged defect in the Starbucks cup did not cause plaintiff's injuries. The panel held that Starbucks met its burden of negating an element of plaintiff's products liability cause of action by showing the alleged defects in the cup of tea it served her were not a proximate cause of her injuries. In this case, plaintiff spilled her drink because, after she walked to the table with the two hot drinks in her hands, put her drink down, and removed the lid, she bent over the table, pushed out her chair, lost her balance, grabbed the table to avoid failing, and knocked her drink off the table. The court also held that Starbucks' alleged negligence by serving the allegedly defective cup was not a proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. View "Shih v. Starbucks Corp." on Justia Law

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Cornejo died of a methamphetamine overdose at Highland Hospital after being arrested by California Highway Patrol officers during a traffic stop and observed to put in his mouth and swallow something that he insisted was gum, not drugs. Cornejo declined repeated offers of medical attention and no symptoms of drug intoxication were observed until after he was transferred to the custody of deputies at the jail.A jury ruled in favor of Cornejo’s parents in a suit for wrongful death predicated on the negligence of the officers who took Cornejo to jail rather than to the hospital, under the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code, 52.1). The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting the defendants’ arguments that the officers had no duty to obtain a medical examination for Cornejo under the circumstances; that they fulfilled the scope of any duty they may have had by taking him to jail with on-site medical staff; that their failure to take him to the hospital was not a proximate cause of his death; and that the trial court erred in ruling the jury could not consider Cornejo’s intentional act of swallowing the methamphetamine in allocating comparative fault and in denying defendants’ motion to exclude evidence that the officers attempted to coerce an admission to possession of a controlled substance by conditioning medical treatment on Cornejo’s admitting he swallowed a controlled substance. View "Frausto v. Department of the California Highway Patrol" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Angela Bolger bought a replacement laptop computer battery on the online shopping website operated by defendant Amazon.com, LLC. The listing for the battery identified the seller as “E-Life,” a fictitious name used on Amazon by Lenoge Technology (HK) Ltd. (Lenoge). Amazon charged Bolger for the purchase, retrieved the laptop battery from its location in an Amazon warehouse, prepared the battery for shipment in Amazon-branded packaging, and sent it to Bolger. Bolger alleged the battery exploded several months later, and she suffered severe burns as a result. Bolger sued Amazon and several other defendants, including Lenoge, alleging causes of action for strict products liability, negligent products liability, breach of implied warranty, breach of express warranty, and “negligence/negligent undertaking.” Lenoge was served but did not appear, so the trial court entered its default. Amazon then moved for summary judgment, arguing primarily that the doctrine of strict products liability, as well as any similar tort theory, did not apply to it because it did not distribute, manufacture, or sell the product in question. It claimed its website was an “online marketplace” and E-Life (Lenoge) was the product seller, not Amazon. The trial court agreed, granted Amazon’s motion, and entered judgment accordingly. Bolger appealed, arguing that Amazon was strictly liable for defective products offered on its website by third-party sellers like Lenoge. In the circumstances of this case, the Court of Appeal agreed and reversed: "Amazon placed itself between Lenoge and Bolger in the chain of distribution of the product at issue here. ... Under established principles of strict liability, Amazon should be held liable if a product sold through its website turns out to be defective. Strict liability here “affords maximum protection to the injured plaintiff and works no injustice to the defendants, for they can adjust the costs of such protection between them in the course of their continuing business relationship." View "Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC" on Justia Law

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After Jasim Al-Kuraishi was killed in a car accident, Al-Kuraishi's wife filed a wrongful death action against defendant and others. Defendant, while driving on the highway, changed lanes and passed a stopped vehicle in order to avoid crashing into the stopped vehicle. Al-Kuraishi's vehicle, which was behind defendant's vehicle, then crashed into the stopped vehicle.The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court's conclusion that the sudden emergency doctrine provides defendant with a complete defense and affirmed. The court held that an emergency or peril under the sudden emergency or imminent peril doctrine is a set of facts presented to the person alleged to have been negligent. Furthermore, it is irrelevant for purposes of the sudden emergency doctrine whether defendant's lane change created a dangerous situation for Al-Kuraishi or anyone else; the only relevant emergency is the one defendant faced. In this case, plaintiff's entire challenge to the trial court's order was that defendant created the emergency that resulted in Al-Kuraishi's death. However, the court explained that plaintiff's argument is focused on the wrong set of circumstances for application of the sudden emergency doctrine. View "Abdulkadhim v. Wu" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury