Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
by
Petitioner Nicholas Casson was a firefighter for the City of Santa Ana for 27 years. In 2012, he retired and began collecting a pension from California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). He immediately started a second career with the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), where he was eligible for a pension under respondent Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS). He did not elect reciprocity between the two pensions, which would have allowed him to import his years of service under CalPERS to the OCERS pension. He started as a first-year firefighter for purposes of the OCERS pension and immediately began collecting pension payments from CalPERS. Five years into the job, he suffered an on-the-job injury that permanently disabled him. He applied for and received a disability pension from OCERS, which, normally, would have paid out 50 percent of his salary for the remainder of his life. However, because he was receiving a CalPERS retirement, OCERS imposed a “disability offset” pursuant to Government Code section 31838.5, the statute central to this appeal. This resulted in a monthly benefit reduction from $4,222.81 to $1,123.87. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Casson filed a petition for a writ of mandate; court denied the petition, finding that the plain language of section 31838.5 required a disability offset. The Court of Appeal reversed: Casson’s service retirement from CalPERS was not a disability allowance and thus should not have been included in the calculation of Casson’s total disability allowance. OCERS should not have imposed an offset, and the trial court should have issued a writ of mandate. View "Casson v. Orange County Employees Retirement System" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs-appellants Jennifer Bitner and Evelina Herrera were employed as licensed vocational nurses by defendant-respondent California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). They filed a class action suit against CDCR alleging that: (1) while assigned to duties that included one-on-one suicide monitoring, they were subjected to acts of sexual harassment by prison inmates; and (2) CDCR failed to prevent or remedy the situation in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Government Code section 12940 et seq. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of CDCR on the ground that it was entitled to statutory immunity under section 844.6, which generally provided that “a public entity is not liable for . . . [a]n injury proximately caused by any prisoner.” Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that, as a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeal should interpret section 844.6 to include an exception for claims brought pursuant to FEHA. Plaintiffs also argued that, even if claims under FEHA were not exempt from the immunity granted in section 844.6, the evidence presented on summary judgment did not establish that their injuries were “ ‘proximately caused’ ” by prisoners. The Court of Appeal disagreed on both points and affirmed the judgment. View "Bitner v. Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Rodrigo Rodriguez Preciado, Norma Janeth Banda Arreola, Alejandro Rodriguez Banda, and Haydee Antonieta Zumaeta appealed a trial court order quashing service of summons filed by defendant Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC). This litigation arose from a February 22, 2020 bus accident that occurred on Interstate 15 in San Diego County, resulting in the death of Cynthia Karely Rodriguez Banda (Cynthia) and injury to Zumaeta. Approximately one year later, Zumaeta, along with Cynthia’s parents and brother (as survivors), filed a lawsuit against several defendants. As specifically relevant here, the defendants also included FCCC, which manufactured the bus’s chassis. All of the causes of action asserted against FCCC were based on various theories of products liability. FCCC argued that Plaintiffs could not “meet their burden of establishing the requisite connection between FCCC, California, and this litigation to justify general or specific jurisdiction over FCCC.” Plaintiffs contended the trial court erred in concluding that they failed to establish that California had general or specific jurisdiction over FCCC in this action. The Court of Appeal concluded Plaintiffs’ arguments lacked merit, and accordingly it affirmed the order granting FCCC’s motion to quash and dismissing it from this action. View "Preciado v. Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp." on Justia Law

by
After a woman developed mesothelioma, she and her husband (Plaintiffs) brought this action in 2020 against a number of entities, including respondent Avon Products, Inc. (Avon). Relying on a declaration (Gallo Declaration) from an employee who did not begin work at Avon until 1994, halfway through the woman’s alleged exposure period, Avon moved for and obtained summary judgment in its favor.   Plaintiffs appealed, contending the trial court erred in overruling their objections to the Gallo Declaration. The trial court found this declaration was the sole evidence which shifted the burden to Plaintiffs to produce evidence sufficient to create a triable issue of material fact. Avon contends that even if the Gallo Declaration was erroneously admitted, summary judgment should still be affirmed on the ground that Plaintiffs’ discovery responses were factually devoid   The Second Appellate District agreed with Plaintiffs that the trial court abused its discretion in overruling Plaintiffs’ objections. The court found that Avon failed to adequately develop this theory in the trial court and on appeal. The court found that Avon did not shift the burden to Plaintiffs. Accordingly, the court wrote that it need not and do not consider Plaintiffs’ argument that the trial court erred in finding they failed to create a triable issue of material fact when they did not offer a statistical analysis showing it was more likely than not asbestos was in the Avon containers actually used by the woman. View "LAOSD Asbestos Cases" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of two California statutes— Civil Code section 3333.2, which caps the number of damages a plaintiff may recoup for noneconomic losses at $250,000 (Civ. Code, Section 3333.2, subd. (b)); and Business and Professions Code section 6146, which sets limits on the amount of contingency fees a law firm may charge in representing a plaintiff in a professional negligence action against a health care provider. (Civ. Code, Section 3333.2 and Bus. & Prof. Code, Section 6146 are sometimes referred to collectively as the challenged statutes.)   The Fifth Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s judgment of dismissal. The court held that Plaintiffs lack standing to challenge civil code section 3333.2 and Business and Professions Code Section 6146. Further, the court held that the heirs do not have standing because the heir’s alleged injuries are insufficient to confer upon them standing to challenge the statutes in question. Moreover, the court could not conclude Plaintiffs will suffer hardship if declaratory relief is withheld. View "Dominguez v. Bonta" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-appellant Chris LaBarbera hired Richard Knight dba Knight Construction (Knight) to remodel a house pursuant to a contract that provided Knight would defend and indemnify LaBarbera for all claims arising out of the work. Knight obtained a general liability insurance policy from defendant-respondent Security National Insurance Company (Security National) that covered damages Knight was obligated to pay due to bodily injury to a third party. As relevant here, the policy also covered Knight’s “liability for damages . . . [a]ssumed in a contract or agreement that is an ‘insured contract.’ ” Security National acknowledged the indemnity provision in Knight’s contract with LaBarbera was an “insured contract” within the meaning of the policy. The policy also provided, “If we defend an insured [i.e., Knight] against a suit and an indemnitee of the insured [i.e., LaBarbera] is also named as a party to the suit, we will defend that indemnitee” if certain conditions were met. During the remodeling work, a subcontractor suffered catastrophic injuries, and sued both LaBarbera and Knight. LaBarbera’s liability insurer (plaintiff-appellant Lloyd's of London Underwriters) defended him in that lawsuit, and Security National defended Knight. LaBarbera also tendered his defense to Knight and to Security National, but they either ignored or rejected the tender. After settling the underlying lawsuit for $465,000, LaBarbera and Underwriters sued Knight and Security National, seeking to recover the full $465,000 settlement amount and over $100,000 in expenses and attorney fees incurred defending LaBarbera in that lawsuit. Security National moved for summary judgment on the ground that all claims against it were barred because the undisputed facts established it did not have an obligation to defend or indemnify LaBarbera. The trial court granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of Security National. LaBarbera and Underwriters appealed, but the Court of Appeal affirmed, adopting different reasoning than the trial court. The Court agreed with Security National that the indemnitee defense clause in Knight’s general liability insurance policy did not bestow third party beneficiary rights on the indemnitee, LaBarbera, who benefitted only incidentally from the clause. Because LaBarbera was not a third party beneficiary under Knight’s policy, he was precluded from bringing a direct action against Security National. View "LaBarbera, et al. v. Security Nat. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
As a child, Schmitz applied J&J’s Baby Powder to her siblings and used it herself. She later applied the powder to her aging father and mother when she cared for them. Schmitz used Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet on a daily basis from the age of 13 until her late forties. The products created visible dust that she breathed in. Schmitz also used perfumed talc sold by Avon. Schmitz was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2018. She sued 10 defendants, including J&J, Colgate, and Avon, alleging that they knowingly concealed the presence of asbestos in their products and the health risks the products posed. The trial centered on whether the experts correctly identified various structures as asbestos, whether the talc products Schmitz used contained asbestos, and, if so, whether that use substantially contributed to her risk of developing mesothelioma.A jury returned a special verdict in Schmitz’s favor. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain expert testimony, gave an adverse inference instruction that was unjustified and prejudicial, erred in failing to grant a mistrial after references to talc causing ovarian cancer, failed to instruct the jury on a critical element of fraudulent concealment, and erred in entering judgment nunc pro tunc. The evidence was sufficient to support a verdict for fraudulent concealment. View "Bader v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

by
Valley Hospital admitted Ann as a resident to recover from hip surgery. Weeks later, Valley discharged Ann to an assisted living facility, where she died five days later. This suit alleges that Ann, unable due to dementia to communicate her needs, lost 40 pounds and became severely dehydrated at Valley, resulting in acute renal failure and that Valley, billing Medicare until her eligibility expired, "dumped" her at a non-medical facility, "misrepresenting to the family and facility that [Ann] was stable and healthy enough” for the transfer.Valley submitted an arbitration agreement that John had signed on Ann’s behalf. The agreement stated that residents were not required to sign as a condition of admission. The court sent the suit to arbitration. The plaintiffs paid their portion of the arbitration filing fee. Valley did not timely pay the balance. More than 30 days after the deadline, citing Code of Civil Procedure section 1281.98, the plaintiffs moved to vacate the stay of litigation and to withdraw from arbitration. Valley paid its fees that day. The court of appeal affirmed an order permitting the resumption of litigation. The statute provides that a business pursuing arbitration under a pre-dispute arbitration agreement is in material breach of that agreement—thereby waiving its right to arbitrate—if it fails to timely pay its share of arbitration fees; it does not require an arbitrator’s determination of default and it is not limited to only to mandatory pre-dispute agreements. View "Williams v. West Coast Hospitals, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In 2011, plaintiff R. Kemp was convicted, released from prison, and placed on parole. In 2020, Amazon.com, Inc. (Amazon) offered Kemp a job in Sacramento. Defendant Accurate Background LLC (Accurate) provided a background report to Amazon revealing Kemp’s criminal conviction. Amazon then withdrew its job offer. Because Kemp’s 2011 conviction predated the 2020 report by more than seven years, he filed a complaint alleging Accurate: (1) violated the California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA); (2) violated the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRAA); and (3) derivatively violated the state’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Accurate filed a demurrer: Kemp’s parole ended in 2014, which predated the 2020 report by less than seven years. Accurate argued under the ICRAA and the CCRAA, “the term ‘parole’ refers to the end of the parole period,” thus barring liability. Alternatively, Accurate argued the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) preempted the state ICRAA, and therefore Kemp’s ICRAA claim was barred as a matter of law. The trial court overruled Accurate’s demurrer, in part, finding “the plain meaning of ‘from the date of . . . parole’ refers to the start date of conditional release.” The court sustained Accurate’s demurrer, in part, finding “the FCRA preempts the ICRAA claim.” Accurate and Kemp both filed petitions for extraordinary writ relief to the Court of Appeal. The Court held the phrase "from the date of parole" referred to the start date of parole, and the FCRA did not preempt Kemp’s ICRAA claim. Thus, the appellate court directed the trial court to vacate its prior order, which partially sustained Accurate’s demurrer, and to issue a new order overruling the demurrer in its entirety. View "Kemp v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

by
John MM. Doe, by and through his guardian ad litem, C.M. (Doe’s mother), and B.S. (Doe’s father) (collectively real parties in interest), sued petitioner Victor Valley Union High School District (the district) for negligence and other causes of action arising from an alleged sexual assault on Doe while he was a high school student. During discovery, real parties in interest learned video that captured some of the events surrounding the alleged sexual assault had been erased. Real parties in interest moved the superior court for terminating sanctions or, in the alternative, evidentiary and issue sanctions against the district under Code of Civil Procedure section 2023.030. The trial court concluded the erasure of the video was the result of negligence, and not intentional wrongdoing, and denied the request for terminating sanctions. However, the court granted the request for evidentiary, issue, and monetary sanctions because it concluded that, even before the lawsuit was filed, the district should have reasonably anticipated the alleged sexual assault would result in litigation and, therefore, the district was under a duty to preserve all relevant evidence including the video. On appeal in the Court of Appeal's original jurisdiction, the district argued the trial court applied the wrong legal standard when it ruled the district had the duty to preserve the video before it was erased and, therefore, that the district was not shielded from sanctions by the safe-harbor provision of section 2023.030(f). After considering real parties in interest's opposition to the petition and the district's reply, the Court of Appeal found the extant record did not support the trial court’s ruling that, at the time the video was erased, the district was on notice that litigation about Doe’s alleged sexual assault was reasonably foreseeable. The Court granted the district's petition and directed the trial court to vacate its sanctions order and reconsider its ruling. View "Victor Valley Union High School Dist. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law