Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

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At issue was whether evidence of industry custom and practice may be introduced in a strict products liability action. William Jae Kim (Kim) and his wife brought this strict products liability suit against Toyota Motor Corporation alleging that the Toyota Tundra pickup truck Kim was driving he was injured was defective because its standard configuration did not include a vehicle stability control (VSC), which they claimed would have prevented the accident. During trial, evidence was admitted that no vehicle manufacturer at the time included VSC as standard equipment in pickup trucks. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Toyota. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) evidence that a manufacturer’s design conforms with industry custom and practice is not admissible to show the manufacturer adopted reasonably in adopting a challenged design and therefore cannot be held liable; (2) however, evidence of industry custom and practice may be admitted for the strict products liability inquiry, including the jury’s evaluation of whether the product is as safely designed as it should be; and (3) the evidence in this case was properly admitted. View "Kim v. Toyota Motor Corp." on Justia Law

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In this action alleging that a utilization reviewer caused Plaintiff additional injuries by denying his treating physician’s request to continue prescribing certain medication for his injuries without authorizing a weaning regimen or warning him of possible side effects of abruptly ceasing the medication, the Supreme Court held that the workers’ compensation law provided the exclusive remedy for the employee’s injuries and thus preempted the employee’s tort claims. Plaintiff sustained a work-related back injury that caused him chronic pain, anxiety and depression. A mental health profession prescribed Klonopin to treat the anxiety and depression. Two years later, a utilization reviewer determined that Klonopin was medically unnecessary and decertified the prescription. After Plaintiff immediately stopped taking the medication he suffered a series of four seizures. Plaintiff filed a complaint asserting several tort claims. Defendants demurred, arguing that the claims were preempted by the Workers’ Compensation Act. The trial court sustained the demurrer. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment insofar as it permitted Plaintiffs to amend their complaint to bolster their claim that Defendants were liable in tort for failure to warn, holding that because the acts alleged did not suggest that Defendants acted outside of the utilization review role contemplated by statute, Plaintiff’s claims were preempted. View "King v. CompPartners, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue was whether the immunity from damages for collisions resulting from police chases provided by Cal. Veh. Code 17004.7 is available to a public agency only if all peace officers of the agency certify in writing that they have received, read, and understood the agency’s vehicle policy. The Supreme Court held that a public agency may receive immunity provided by section 17004.7 only if every peace officer the agency employs has provided written certification that the officer has received, read, and understood the agency’s written policy on vehicular pursuits. While the agency’s policy must require the written certification, the agency need not prove total compliance with that requirement as a prerequisite to receiving the immunity. The Court of Appeal reached a similar conclusion, holding (1) it suffices if a public agency imposes the certification requirement, but the agency does not have to prove total compliance with the requirement; and (2) because the pursuit policy promulgated by the City in this case imposed such a requirement, summary judgment was correctly granted in the City’s favor. View "Ramirez v. City of Gardena" on Justia Law

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At issue was which statute of limitations applies to a suit brought by a child allegedly harmed by in utero exposure to hazardous chemicals: that for toxic exposure claims - Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 340.8(a) - or that for prenatal injuries - Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 340.4. Plaintiff brought suit when she was twelve years old alleging that she and her mother were exposed to toxic chemicals at a Sony Electronics, Inc. manufacturing plant, resulting in her birth defects. Sony moved for summary judgment, arguing that the action was barred by the six-year statute of limitations under section 340.4. In response, Plaintiff argued that her action fell under section 340.8. Section 340.8’s limitations period is only two years but, unlike section 340.4, permits tolling during minority and periods of mental incapacity. The trial court granted summary judgment after applying section 340.4. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the toxic exposure statute was more recently enacted, and its language plainly encompasses prenatal injuries, it applies in this case; and (2) therefore, Plaintiff’s claims are not time-barred. View "Lopez v. Sony Electronics, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue was the validity of a court order entered upon default judgment in a defamation case, insofar as it directed Yelp Inc. to remove certain consumer reviews posted on its website. Plaintiffs brought the underlying lawsuit alleging that certain consumer reviews posted on Yelp were libelous. Yelp was not named as a defendant and did not participate in the judicial proceedings that led to the eventual default judgment. Yelp only became involved in the litigation after being served with a copy of the judgment and order directing that the challenged reviews be purged. Yelp field a motion to set aside and vacate the judgment, arguing that, to the extent the removal order would impose upon Yelp a duty to remove the reviews at issue, the order was barred under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. 230. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the order as to Yelp was beyond the scope of section 230. The Supreme Court reversed, holding the the court of appeal adopted too narrow a construction of section 230 and that section 230 immunity applied in this case. View "Hassell v. Bird" on Justia Law

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At issue was the claim and issue preclusive significance in future litigation of a conclusion relied on by the trial court and challenged on appeal but not addressed by the appellate court. The Supreme Court overruled People v. Skidmore, 27 Cal. 287 (1865), holding that Skidmore reflects a flawed view of preclusion and that stare decisis does not compel continued adherence to Skidmore. Plaintiff sued both Dr. Haitham Matar and Dr. Stephen Nahigian for professional negligence and alleged that Matar was vicariously liable for Nahigian’s alleged tort. The trial court granted summary judgment for both defendants in two successive judgments. In the first judgment with respect to Nahigian, the trial court concluded that the suit was untimely and that there was no genuine issue regarding causation. In the second judgment, the trial court concluded that the court’s earlier no-causation determination precluded holding Matar liable for Nahigian’s conduct. The court of appeals affirmed the first judgment on statute of limitations grounds without reaching the no-causation ground. As to Matar, the court of appeal reversed, concluding that claim preclusion was unavailable because Plaintiff sued both defendants in a single lawsuit and that Skidmore was inapplicable to issue preclusion. The Supreme Court held that Skidmore must be overruled and that Matar was not entitled to summary judgment on preclusion grounds. View "Samara v. Matar" on Justia Law

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When a third party sues an employer for the negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of an employee who intentionally injured that third party, the suit alleges an “occurrence” under the employer’s commercial general liability policy so long as the injury can be considered “accidental.” Jane Doe alleged that Construction Company negligently hired, retained, and supervised an employee, who allegedly sexually abused Doe. Construction Company tendered the defense to Insurer. Insurer sought declaratory relief in federal court contending that it had no obligation to defend or indemnify Construction Company. The commercial general liability policy at issue provided coverage for “bodily injury caused by an “occurrence.” “Occurrence” was defined as an “accident.” The district court granted summary judgment to Insurer, reasoning that Doe’s injury was not caused by an “occurrence” because the alleged negligent hiring, retention, and supervision were acts too attenuated from the injury-causing conduct committed by the employee. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the causal connection between Construction Company’s alleged negligence and the injury inflicted by its employee was close enough to justify the imposition of liability on Construction Company. View "Liberty Surplus Insurance Corp. v. Ledesma & Meyer Construction Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Universities have a special relationship with their students and a duty to protect them from foreseeable violence during curricular activities. Damon Thompson, a student at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), stabbed fellow student Katherine Rosen during a chemistry lab. Thompson was experiencing auditory hallucinations, and school administrators had attempted to provide him with mental health treatment. Rosen sued UCLA and several of its employees (collectively, UCLA), alleging negligence for UCLA’s failure to protect her from Thompson’s foreseeable violent conduct. UCLA moved for summary judgment, arguing that colleges have no duty to protect their adult students from criminal acts. The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeal granted UCLA’s petition for writ of mandate, ruling that UCLA owed no duty to protect Rosen. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that universities owe a duty to protect students from foreseeable violence during curricular activities. View "Regents of University of California v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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In this appeal arising from a demurrer, Plaintiffs could allege a cause of action against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation for warning label liability. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal, which directed the trial court to enter an order sustaining Novartis’s demurrer with leave to amend Plaintiffs’ negligence and negligent misrepresentation causes of action. Plaintiffs claimed, inter alia, that Novartis knew or should have known that its warning label failed to alert pregnant women or their doctors to the risk Brethine posed to fetal brain development. Novartis filed a demurrer, arguing that it had no duty to Plaintiffs. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. The Court of Appeal reversed and directed that the order sustaining the demurrer be modified to grant Plaintiffs leave to amend their causes of action for negligence and negligent misrepresentation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) brand-name drug manufacturers have a duty to use ordinary care in warning about the safety risks of their drugs, regardless of whether the injured party was dispensed the brand-name or generic version of the drug; and (2) a brand-name manufacturer’s sale of the rights to a drug does not terminate its liability for injuries foreseeably and proximately caused by deficiencies present in the warning label prior to the sale. View "T.H. v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal ruling that a court’s error in failing to issue a statement of decision as required by Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 632 is not reversible per se but is subject to harmless error review. The trial court issued a tentative decision finding that Defendant committed acts of sexual assault against Plaintiff and that Defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing Plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiff’s counsel submitted a proposed judgment to the court. The court signed the judgment without issuing a separate statement of decision. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in failing to issue a statement of decision and that the error was reversible per se. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court erred but that the error did not result in a miscarriage of justice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a trial court’s error in failing to issue a statement of decision upon a timely request is not reversible per se but is, rather, subject to harmless error review. View "F.P. v. Monier" on Justia Law