Justia California Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Ramos v. Brenntag Specialties, Inc.
Plaintiff, a metal foundry worker, alleged that he developed interstitial pulmonary fibrosis as the result of his exposure to fumes from molten metal and dust from plaster, sand, limestone, and marble. Plaintiff sought recovery from Defendants, the companies that supplied products for use in the foundry’s manufacturing process, alleging that Defendants’ products produced harmful fumes and dust that were a substantial cause of his illness. The trial court sustained Defendants’ demurrer without leave to amend, relying on the Court of Appeal decision in Maxton v. Western States Metals, which held that under the “component parts doctrine,” a supplier of materials was not liable for injuries suffered under circumstances similar to those in the present case. The Court of Appeal reversed after explicitly disagreeing with the analysis and conclusion in Maxton. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the component part doctrine was not applicable in this case, and therefore, the Court of Appeal did not err in concluding that the trial court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ action could not be upheld. Remanded for further proceedings. View "Ramos v. Brenntag Specialties, Inc." on Justia Law
Nickerson v. Stonebridge Life Ins. Co.
After Plaintiff was injured, he sought benefits from Defendant-insurer under an indemnity benefit policy. Plaintiff subsequently filed suit alleging that Defendant breached the insurance contract and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The jury awarded Plaintiff $31,500 in unpaid policy benefits, $35,000 in damages for emotional distress, and $19 million in punitive damages. The parties stipulated that the amount of attorney fees to which Plaintiff was entitled under Brandt v. Superior Court was $12,500, and the court awarded that amount. Defendant moved for a new trial seeking a reduction in the punitive damages award on the grounds that it was unconstitutionally excessive. The trial court granted the motion and reduced the jury’s award to a 10-to-1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages. In so doing, the court considered only the $35,000 damages award but did not include the $12,500 in Brandt fees. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, in determining whether a punitive damages award is unconstitutionally excessive, Brandt fees may be included in the calculation of the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages, regardless of whether the fees are awarded by the trier of fact as part of its verdict or are determined after the verdict has been rendered. Remanded. View "Nickerson v. Stonebridge Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Webb v. Special Electric Co., Inc.
After plaintiff was injured by exposure to asbestos products, he filed suit against a raw asbestos supplier (Special Electric) for failure to warn him about the danger. At issue is the extent of the supplier's duty to warn. Under the sophisticated intermediary doctrine, the supplier can discharge this duty if it conveys adequate warnings to the material's purchaser (in this case, Johns-Manville), or sells to a sufficiently sophisticated purchaser, and reasonably relies on the purchaser to convey adequate warnings to others, including those who encounter the material in a finished product. Special Electric arguably forfeited the sophisticated intermediary defense by failing to present it to the jury. However, assuming the defense was preserved, the record does not establish as a matter of law that Special Electric discharged its duty to warn by reasonably relying on a sophisticated intermediary. The evidence is disputed about whether Special Electric consistently provided warnings to Johns-Manville during the relevant time frame; although the record clearly shows Johns-Manville was aware of the risks of asbestos in general, no evidence established it knew about the particularly acute risks posed by the crocidolite asbestos Special Electric supplied; plaintiffs presented evidence that at least one Special Electric salesperson told customers crocidolite was safer than other types of asbestos fiber, when the opposite was true; and the record does not establish as a matter of law that Special Electric actually and reasonably relied on Johns-Manville to warn end users like plaintiff about the dangers of asbestos. Accordingly, the court concluded that the trial court did not err in granting judgment notwithstanding the verdict because substantial evidence supports the jury's verdict against Special Electric. View "Webb v. Special Electric Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Winn v. Pioneer Med. Grp.
Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants alleging claims of medical malpractice and then later filed a claim for elder abuse. At issue is whether the definition of neglect under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, Welf. & Inst. Code, 15600 et seq., applies when a health care provider - delivering care on an outpatient basis - fails to refer an elder patient to a specialist. The court concluded that the Act does not apply unless the defendant health care provider had a substantial caretaking or custodial relationship, involving ongoing responsibility for one or more basic needs, with the elder patient. It is the nature of the elder or dependent adult‘s relationship with the defendant - not the defendant‘s professional standing - that makes the defendant potentially liable for neglect. In this case, because defendants did not have a caretaking or custodial relationship with the decedent, the court found that plaintiffs cannot adequately allege neglect under the Elder Abuse Act. Plaintiffs rely solely on defendants‘ allegedly substandard provision of medical treatment, on an outpatient basis, to an elder. But without more, such an allegation does not support the conclusion that neglect occurred under the Elder Abuse Act. View "Winn v. Pioneer Med. Grp." on Justia Law
Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hosp.
Unlike most other personal injury actions, which generally must be filed within two years of the date on which the challenged act or omission occurred, professional negligence actions against health care providers must be brought within one year after the plaintiff discovers, or should have discovered, the injury, pursuant to Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 340.5. Plaintiff was a hospital patient who was injured when one of the rails on her hospital bed collapsed. Plaintiff sued the hospital, claiming negligence in failing to inspect and maintain the equipment. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that Plaintiff’s claim was untimely because it sounded in professional, rather than ordinary negligence, and therefore, the action was governed by the special limitations period in section 340.5. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the hospital’s alleged failure to take reasonable precautions to make a dangerous condition safe sounded in ordinary negligence. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court correctly determined that section 340.5 was the applicable statute of limitations, and the Court of Appeal erred in holding to the contrary. View "Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hosp." on Justia Law
Gaines v. Fidelity Nat’l Title Ins. Co.
This case arose from Plaintiff’s sale of property to Defendants. In November 2006, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants alleging negligence, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and failure to follow home equity sales contract requirements. In May 2012, Fidelity National Title Insurance Company moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to bring the action to trial within the five-year time frame required by Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 583.310. The trial court dismissed the case in its entirety. In so doing, the trial court concluded that the time during which the court had vacated the trial date and ordered a 120-day stay of proceedings to permit the parties to engage in mediation did not support tolling. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court’s order did not effect a complete stay of the prosecute of the action, nor did it create a circumstance of impracticability, and therefore, the period of the “mediation stay” did not toll the five-year period. View "Gaines v. Fidelity Nat’l Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Hampton v. County of San Diego
Plaintiff was seriously injured in a collision between his vehicle and another that occurred at an intersection in San Diego County. Plaintiff and his wife sued the County for maintaining an allegedly dangerous condition of public property, claiming that the design and construction of the intersection where the accident occurred afforded inadequate visibility under applicable County design standards. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the County on the basis of design immunity. The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the County had established the defense of design immunity for the purpose of summary judgment. At issue before the Supreme Court was second element a public entity claiming design immunity must establish - discretionary approval. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the issue of the adequacy of the deliberative process with respect to design standards may be considered in connection with the court’s determination whether there is substantial evidence that the design was reasonable; and (2) the discretionary approval element does not require the public entity to demonstrate in its prima facie case that the employee who had authority to and did approve the plans also had authority to disregard applicable standards. View "Hampton v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law
B.H. v. County of San Bernardino
A private citizen called a 911 operator to report an incident of suspected child abuse during the child’s visit with his father. A deputy sheriff, who was dispatched to investigate the report, determined that the child was not a victim of child abuse. Neither the officer nor the Sheriff’s Department cross-reported the initial 911 report to the child welfare agency. Less than four weeks later, the child suffered extensive head injuries during a visit with his father. The child, through a guardian ad litem, sued the county and the deputy sheriff for failing to cross-report the initial child abuse allegations to the county child welfare agency, in violation of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) the Sheriff’s Department had a mandatory and ministerial duty to cross-report the child abuse allegations made to the 911 operator to the child welfare agency, and the failure to cross-report can support a finding of breach of a mandatory duty; but (2) the officer had no duty to report the child abuse allegations and her investigative findings to the child welfare agency. View "B.H. v. County of San Bernardino" on Justia Law
Lee v. Hanley
Client advanced Attorney funds to cover attorney’s fees in litigation. After Client terminated the representation, Attorney refused to return the unearned attorney’s fees. Attorney demurred on the ground that the lawsuit was barred by Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 340.6(a), which sets forth a one-year limitations period for actions against an attorney for a “wrongful act or omission” arising in the performance of “professional services.” The trial court sustained the demurrer, concluding that section 340.6(a) applied to Client’s claims and that she filed her complaint more than one year after Attorney informed her that he would not return her money. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order sustaining Attorney’s demurrer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 340.6(a) applies to a claim when the merits of the claim will necessarily depend on proof that an attorney violated a professional obligation in the course of providing professional services; and (2) in this case, Client’s complaint could be construed to allege a claim for conversion whose ultimate proof at trial may not depend on the assertion that Attorney violated a professional obligation. View "Lee v. Hanley" on Justia Law
Cordova v. City of Los Angeles
The negligent driving of a third party driver caused another car to strike a magnolia tree planted on a center median owned and maintained by the City of Los Angeles. The collision with the tree resulted in the deaths or injuries of all of the car’s occupants. Plaintiffs sued the City under Cal. Gov't Code 835, under which a public entity may be held liable for injury proximately caused by a dangerous condition of its property if the risk of injury was reasonably foreseeable and the entity had sufficient notice of the danger to take corrective measures. Specifically, Plaintiffs asserted that the configuration of the roadway was a dangerous condition of public property. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the City, ruling that the magnolia tree did not constitute a dangerous condition of public property because it did not cause the accident that killed the decedents. The court of appeal affirmed, reasoning that Plaintiffs could not show that the magnolia tree contributed to the third party motorist’s criminally negligent driving. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 835 did not require Plaintiffs to show that the allegedly dangerous condition caused not only their decedents’ fatal injuries but also the third party conduct that precipitated the accident. Remanded. View "Cordova v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law