Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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After Norris Morgan was diagnosed with mesothelioma in December 2017, he and his wife filed suit against J-MM and others. The jury concluded that Morgan was exposed to asbestos from products that J-MM sold, and that J-MM was partly responsible for Morgan’s mesothelioma; awarded compensatory damages; and concluded that J-MM had acted with malice, oppression, or fraud, and awarded an additional $15,000,000 as punitive damages. Based on the jury's apportionment of fault, the trial court entered judgment for plaintiff and his wife against J-MM for $22,213,704.39. The trial court subsequently denied J-MM's motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and new trial.The Court of Appeal concluded that the record contains evidence from which the jury could reasonably have concluded that Morgan was exposed to asbestos from pipe supplied by J-MM; the trial court was not required to give J-MM's requested jury instruction that J-MM was not liable for the conduct of another company; and the jury's punitive damage award is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the court reversed the award of punitive damages and affirmed in all other respects. View "Morgan v. J-M Manufacturing Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Respondent David Collins suffered serious injuries following his arrest by San Diego County Sheriff's Deputies for public intoxication. After a three-week trial, a jury found in favor of Collins on his negligence claims against the two deputies involved in the arrest and two nurses employed by the County of San Diego (County) who attended to Collins while in jail. On appeal from the subsequent judgment and the denial of its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), the County raised five claims of error: (1) the jury’s finding that the deputies had a reasonable basis to arrest Collins foreclosed his claim of negligence against the deputies; (2) the court erred by instructing the jury it could find the deputies liable for injuries caused by private physicians who treated Collins after he was released from custody; (3) the court erred by failing to instruct the jury it could not hold defendants liable for an injury Collins sustained while in jail; (4) governmental immunity requires reversal of the judgment against one of the nurse defendants; and (5) the court erred in its calculation of the amount of setoff the defendants were entitled to based on Collins’s prior settlement with the private physicians and their employer. The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments and affirmed the judgment. View "Collins v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order denying defendant's special motion to strike plaintiff's complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), Code Civ. Proc., 425.16. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant for defamation and other torts, alleging causes of action arising from an article about him that defendant had written in Vietnamese.The court concluded that the trial court erroneously determined that defendant had failed to satisfy the first prong of the anti-SLAPP statute, i.e., defendant had not made a threshold showing that plaintiff's action arose from protected activity in connection with an issue of public interest. In this case, the article concerned a matter of public interest because plaintiff was "in the public eye" in the Vietnamese community. Furthermore, plaintiff is collaterally estopped from claiming that the article did not concern an issue of public interest because this issue was decided against him in the prior BBC proceeding. The court also concluded that the trial court erroneously determined that plaintiff had satisfied the statute's second prong, i.e., plaintiff had demonstrated a probability of prevailing on his claims. The court explained that plaintiff has failed to carry his burden of establishing a probability that he can show by clear and convincing evidence that defendant acted with actual malice. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiff cannot establish a probability of prevailing on his second cause of action for violation of the common law of publicity and his third cause of action for civil conspiracy. View "Kieu Hoang v. Phong Minh Tran" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the city after her son was killed in a collision with a turning truck while riding his bike. Plaintiff alleged a dangerous condition of public property under Government Code section 835. The trial court granted the city's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the city had proved entitlement to design immunity as a matter of law under section 830.6.The court concluded that design immunity shields the city from liability for the absence of a bicycle lane. However, following the state Supreme Court's binding precedent Cameron v. State of California (1972) 7 Cal.3d 318, 327, the court held that even where design immunity covers a dangerous condition, it does not categorically preclude liability for failure to warn about that dangerous condition. In this case, the city's entitlement to design immunity for its failure to include a bicycle lane at the site of the accident does not, as a matter of law, necessarily preclude its liability under a theory of failure to warn. The court remanded for the trial court to consider the failure to warn theory in the first instance. The court affirmed in part and vacated in part. View "Tansavatdi v. City of Rancho Palos Verdes" on Justia Law

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After a surgeon competently performed a gastric re-sleeving surgery on plaintiff, she filed suit against him for negligence in recommending gastric re-sleeve surgery as a viable course of treatment and in not obtaining her informed consent to the surgery.The Court of Appeal held that a physician may be liable for negligently recommending a course of treatment if (1) that course stems from a misdiagnosis of the patient's underlying medical condition, or (2) all reasonable physicians in the relevant medical community would agree that the probable risks of that treatment outweigh its probable benefits. The court also held that a patient's informed consent to a negligently recommended course of treatment does not negate the physician's liability for his negligence in recommending it. In this case, although the trial court erred by instructing the jury that plaintiff's informed consent negated any liability for the surgeon's recommendation, the court concluded that this error did not prejudice her case because her negligent recommendation theory should never have gone to the jury in the first place. In this case, the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, does not support the conclusion that the surgeon was negligent in recommending that plaintiff undergo the gastric re-sleeve surgery where she suffered from morbid obesity. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Flores v. Liu" on Justia Law

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A construction worker was killed when concrete formwork toppled over at a worksite. Plaintiffs, the worker's surviving family members, brought a wrongful death action against the general contractor, Swinerton Builders, and formwork supplier, Atlas Construction Supply, Inc. Atlas cross-complained against Swinerton for equitable indemnity, contribution and declaratory relief. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Swinerton as to the wrongful death complaint. Swinerton, in lieu of seeking entry of judgment on the summary judgment order, settled with plaintiffs, wherein plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their case against Swinerton, and Swinerton waived its costs. Apparently under a shared belief that the good faith settlement determination barred Atlas' cross-complaint against Swinerton, Atlas and Swinerton stipulated to the dismissal of Atlas' cross-complaint against Swinerton. Atlas appealed the summary judgment order, the good faith settlement determination, and dismissal of its cross-complaint. Atlas argued that the trial court erred in ruling Atlas lacked standing to oppose Swinerton's motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, Atlas argued if the trial court had considered its opposition brief, the court could have reasonably denied Swinerton's motion, and Swinerton would have never settled the wrongful death complaint, never made the good faith settlement determination, and Swinerton and Atlas would never have stipulated to the dismissal of Atlas' cross-complaint. After review, the Court of Appeal determined Atlas was not aggrieved by the trial court's exoneration of Swinerton in the wrongful death action. Therefore, Atlas lacked standing to appeal the summary judgment order. With respect to the good faith settlement and dismissal of the cross-complaint, the Court determined Atlas waived its challenge by failing to make substantive legal arguments specific to those orders. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed as to the summary judgment motion, and judgment was affirmed as to all other orders. View "Atlas Construction Supply v. Swinerton Builders" on Justia Law

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In this highway fatality case, the Court of Appeal held that there has been a miscarriage of justice and thus the court must vacate the $30 million dollar non-economic damage award. The court explained that, in this case, the jury was not permitted to consider the comparative fault of defendants who settled before trial. Therefore, reversal is required for this reason alone. The court also concluded that no substantial evidence appears to support the amount of the damages award, an amount that shocks the conscience and appears to have been influenced by the misconduct and improper argument of respondents' counsel. The court remanded with directions to conduct a new trial limited to determining the amount of the damages award and its apportionment among all defendants, including those who settled before trial. View "Plascencia v. Deese" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was struck by another vehicle while waiting in his disabled car on the shoulder of the freeway for roadside assistance, plaintiff filed suit against Auto Club and Brent-Air for negligence. The trial court assumed, without deciding, that plaintiff could amend his discovery responses to state that Auto Club's delay in responding to his call was a substantial factor in causing his injuries. The trial court nonetheless held, as a matter of law, no special relationship existed between the Auto Club and plaintiff, and thus the Auto Club had no duty under tort law to provide any assistance.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of Auto Club, holding that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment based on an issue not presented in the moving papers. In this case, the trial court improperly decided the issue of duty where the contract had nothing to do with the question of causation identified by Auto Club's motion and its separate statement, nor did the reasonableness of plaintiff's reliance on Auto Club to timely provide roadside assistance. The court affirmed the judgment as to Brent-Air because plaintiff does not address Brent-Air on appeal. View "Luebke v. Automobile Club of Southern California" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants Robert Dziubla and Linda Stanwood claimed defendant Ignatius Piazza II, owner of a Nevada firearms training facility, harassed and threatened them by publishing defamatory statements along with their personal identifying information, and sending associates to invade their home. Piazza retorted that plaintiffs conned him out of thousands of dollars and are now attempting to steal his property and "chill his constitutional rights." The trial court granted in part and denied in part Piazza’s special motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. With one important clarification as to the scope of protected activity, the Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion. That clarification involved so-called “doxing” allegations in the complaint: plaintiffs’ claim that Piazza published private personal identifying information about them to thousands of gun enthusiasts as a thinly-veiled threat about what could happen if they continued to litigate the business dispute. Although it was included in an otherwise-protected litigation “alert” that discussed the pending lawsuit, the doxing information was entirely extraneous to the court proceedings that were the ostensible subject of the communication. The Court of Appeal thus rejected Piazza’s assertion that plaintiffs could not meet the “minimal merit” standard on the anti-SLAPP motion because the doxing allegations would necessarily be barred by the litigation privilege in Civil Code section 47(b). The order granting the special motion to strike was reversed in part as to two of plaintiffs’ cause of action ‒ the tenth, seeking an injunction, and the twelfth, alleging a civil rights violation ‒ but only as to the claims included in these causes of action that alleged injury from the publication of their personal information, i.e., the doxing allegations. In all other respects, the order was affirmed. The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Dziubla v. Piazza" on Justia Law

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In 2018, N.G. submitted a proposed claim for damages to the County, alleging that San Diego County Deputy Sheriff Richard Fischer sexually assaulted her in 2017. N.G. acknowledged the claim was submitted 81 days after the six-month period for filing a claim expired. N.G.’s petition for relief alleged that due to the emotional trauma and psychological difficulties faced by victims of sexual assaults committed by law enforcement officers, which could cause those victims to delay in coming forward, her failure to file a timely claim should have been excused due to mistake or excusable neglect. Accordingly, N.G. also filed an application for leave to file a late claim. The County denied leave to file a late claim; N.G. appealed when the district court denied her petition under Government Code section 946.6 seeking relief from the requirement in the Government Claims Act that she timely file a claim with the County of San Diego prior to bringing a suit for damages. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court was within its discretion to conclude that N.G. did not establish mistake or excusable neglect to support her petition for relief from the claim filing requirement. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "N.G. v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law