Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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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

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In 2003, Daley, pregnant with twins, had twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a congenital condition involving a circulation abnormality in twins growing from a single placenta. Standard therapy for TTTS in the U.S. was amnioreduction, which removes amniotic fluid from the recipient fetus by inserting a needle into the amniotic sac. Daley underwent amnioreduction in Utah, but it was unsuccessful. Daley agreed to participate in an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trial. The University of Utah conducted the formal informed consent process; Daley signed a consent form. Daley contends that the subsequent performance of open fetal surgery on study patients violated NIH protocol, the consent forms, and UCSF hospital policy. Ultimately, neither twin survived. About 11 years later, Daley saw a Facebook posting by her current attorneys, seeking mothers who participated in the NIH TTTS trial. Daley filed suit, alleging medical battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming she had consented to a percutaneous surgery (with access to the organs established by a needle puncture), but defendants performed an open laparotomy and open hysterotomy, procedures to which she did not consent. The trial court dismissed her case as time-barred. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that the discovery rule applies to medical battery claims. View "Daley v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a 24-hour skilled nursing facility, appealed an order denying its petition to compel arbitration of claims asserting negligent or willful misconduct, elder abuse, and wrongful death filed against it by decedent’s daughter as successor in interest and individually. The trial court found the successor claims were not arbitrable because no arbitration agreement existed between decedent and defendant, given defendant’s failure to prove daughter had authority to sign the agreement on decedent’s behalf. The court further found the arbitration agreement was unenforceable against daughter individually on grounds of unconscionability. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court order. View "Lopez v. Bartlett Care Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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Churchman alleged she bought a train ticket at a station operated by the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, passed through turnstiles, and went to the boarding platform. She claims she was confused by the “opening and closing of doors on opposite side [sic] of the cars,” partially inaudible and confusing instructions broadcast over the public address system, and “abrupt turns and moves” by other passengers. Churchman lost her balance and fall. Churchman sued the District for violating its duty of care as a common carrier (Civ. Code, 2100). The District successfully argued it has no common law negligence liability and its liability as a common carrier applies only to passengers in transit, i.e., aboard the BART train. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal. Civil Code section 2100, which imposes on common carriers a duty to “use the utmost care and diligence for [passengers’] safe carriage,” does not apply to minor, commonplace hazards in a train station. Because the District is a public agency, it is not liable for personal injuries in the absence of a statute providing for liability (Gov. Code, 815), so there is no statutory basis for liability. View "Churchman v. Bay Area Rapid Transit District" on Justia Law

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Cynthia Huerta, Maria De Jesus Gonzalez and Andres Gonzalez were the parents of three girls who were tragically killed on Halloween night in 2014 when they were struck by a speeding motorist while they were crossing the street in a marked crosswalk. The driver fled the scene. He was later arrested and pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter. Huerta and the Gonzalezes sued the City of Santa Ana (the City), alleging a cause of action for damages based on a claim that the crosswalk constituted a “dangerous condition of public property” pursuant to Government Code sections 835 and 835.2. They contended the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the City, arguing there were triable issues of fact related to whether the crosswalk qualified as “a dangerous condition of public property” and whether the City had notice of that dangerous condition before this accident. After review, the Court of Appeal could not find a “dangerous condition of public property” or any “peculiar condition” that would trigger an obligation by the City to modify its street lighting at the accident scene. Moreover, it was undisputed that the driver who hit the girls was exceeding the posted speed limit, and therefore the speed limit was not a proximate cause of these tragic deaths. The Court therefore affirmed judgment in favor of the City. View "Huerta v. City of Santa Ana" on Justia Law

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A public entity is not liable for an injury caused by a dangerous condition of public property unless the injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition and the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury which was incurred. After a motorist with a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others, recklessly tried to pass a tour bus on State Route 1, he struck a car driven by plaintiff head-on. Plaintiff was severely injured and his wife was killed. The jury returned a special verdict that a dangerous condition of public property existed but did not "create a reasonably foreseeable risk that this kind of incident would occur." The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in favor of defendants, holding that the special verdicts were not fatally or hopelessly inconsistent. The court explained that the jury could find that there was one and/or two dangerous conditions, but it had nothing to do with the collision or the collision was caused by a reckless driver. The court rejected plaintiff's contention that once the jury finds an unsafe condition of public property, the public entity was at least 1 percent at fault and a reckless driver could not be 100 percent at fault. The court also rejected plaintiff's remaining claims of error. View "Fuller v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a personal injury action against the County, alleging that the County negligently caused a bus on which he was a passenger to strike a pillar in 2013. The jury found the County liable and awarded $5000 in damages, but then the trial court denied plaintiff's motion challenging the adequacy of the damages and denied plaintiff's post-trial motion for costs. The Court of Appeal held that the testimony of the County's medical expert went beyond the scope of permissible impeachment by an undesignated expert, and that the effect of admitting his opinion testimony was prejudicial. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment on the verdict and remanded for a new trial on all issues, with instructions to the trial court to vacate its order on the parties' post-trial motions and the judgment entered thereon. Finally, the court addressed additional contentions of error regarding issues likely to arise on retrial. View "Pina v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff broke her ankle on a stairway in the Bootjack Campground within Mt. Tamalpais State Park, she filed suit against State Parks for premises liability. The trial court awarded summary judgment to State Parks. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's ruling that State Parks was entitled to immunity because the stairway is a "trail," or at least an "integral part" of a trail, within the meaning of Government Code section 831.4, subdivision (b). However, the court reversed the trial court's award of attorney's fees and costs, holding that the issue of immunity was not so clear cut that plaintiff's lawsuit lacked reasonable cause. View "Lee v. Department of Parks and Recreation" on Justia Law

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Donald Wilson entered a plea of no contest on a charge of felony child abuse in connection with events culminating in the death on his infant son. He and his wife (plaintiffs) then sued several individuals and entities who undertook to provide lifesaving services for the infant, asserting causes of action for medical malpractice, professional negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. At issue in this appeal was the trial court’s grant of summary judgment as to one of those causes of action (Second Cause of Action) against one of those defendants, San Joaquin County (the County). This cause of action sought to hold the County responsible for alleged negligence on the part of two firefighters employed by the City of Stockton (the City), who provided emergency medical services to the infant during his transport to San Joaquin General Hospital (the hospital). The trial court concluded Government Code section 850.6 provided the County with immunity under these circumstances. The Court of Appeal concluded this provision, which applied to “fire protection or firefighting” services, did not apply to the emergency medical services provided by the firefighters in this case. View "Wilson v. County of San Joaquin" on Justia Law