Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court held that a company that hired the contractor that hired the injured plaintiff in this case, owned the premises, and operated the electrical equipment, was not liable for the plaintiff's injuries.Plaintiff, an electrical parts specialist, sustained burns to a substantial portion of his body after he triggered an arc flash from a circuit he did not realize was live with flowing electricity. A jury concluded that the contractor for whom Plaintiff had been working and who had removed the protective cover on that live circuit while work was underway acted negligently and was liable for Plaintiff's injuries. At issue was whether Defendant, the entity that hired the independent contractor, owed a tort duty to Plaintiff, who was working for Defendant at the time of Plaintiff's injuries. The Supreme Court held that Defendant owed no tort duty to Plaintiff because Defendant neither failed to sufficiently disclose the hazard nor affirmatively contributed to the injury. View "Sandoval v. Qualcomm Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court held that a landowner may not be liable for injuries to an independent contractor or its workers that result from a known hazard on the premises where there were no reasonable safety precautions the landowner could have adopted to minimize or avoid the hazard.Plaintiff's company was hired by Defendant to clean his home's skylight. While Plaintiff was walking on the edge of the roof he slipped and fell, sustaining serious injuries. Plaintiff brought this action, contending that his accident was caused by certain dangerous conditions on Defendant's roof. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant, finding that Defendant owed no duty to Plaintiff pursuant to the Privette doctrine, or the presumption that the hirer of an independent contractor delegates to the contractor all responsibility for workplace safety. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that a landowner may be liable to an independent contractor for injuries resulting from known hazards. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, unless a landowner retains control over any part of the contractor's work and negligently exercises that retained control in a manner that affirmatively contributes to the injury, it is not liable to an independent contractor or its workers for an injury resulting from a known hazard on the premises. View "Gonzalez v. Mathis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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In this wrongful death action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal determining that a minor's eighteenth birthday is excluded in calculating when the statute of limitations begins to run, holding that an individual's eighteenth birthday is excluded when calculating the applicable limitations period.Plaintiff brought this lawsuit against the City of Fontana and several of its police officers (collectively, Defendants) under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that one of the officers wrongfully shot and killed his father. Plaintiff was a minor at the time of his father's death. The trial court ruled that the claim was time-barred because Plaintiff filed suit one day outside the two-year limitations period and that Plaintiff's eighteenth birthday must be included in calculating the limitations period. The court of appeal reversed, ruling that Plaintiff's eighteenth birthday should have been excluded pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 12. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) in cases in which the statute of limitations is tolled bad on a plaintiff's minor age, the day after tolling ends is excluded in calculating whether an action is timely filed; and (2) Plaintiff's lawsuit in this case was timely filed. View "Shalabi v. City of Fontana" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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In this negligence action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming the trial court's decision to dismiss one of several named defendants, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), for failure to adequately allege a special relationship giving rise to an affirmative duty to protect, holding that the court of appeals did not err.Plaintiffs, former athletes who trained in the Olympic sport of taekwondo, filed this suit against their former coach, Marc Gitelman, and several others, alleging, among other things, that USOC and USA Taekwondo (USAT) were negligent in failing to protect them from Gitelman's sexual abuse. USOC and USAT both demurred to the complaint, contending that Plaintiffs had not adequately alleged that they had an affirmative duty to take action to protect Plaintiffs from Gitelman's abuse. The trial court sustained the demurrers and entered judgments of dismissal. The court of appeal reversed as to USAT but affirmed as to USOC. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeal did not err by declining to apply the factors set out in Rowland v. Christian, 69 Cal. 2d 108 (1968), as an alternative source of duty. View "Brown v. USA Taekwondo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court held that when Norma and James Gund suffered a violent attack after being asked by law enforcement to check on a neighbor who had called 911 requesting help, the only remedy available to the Gunds was through workers' compensation.When members of the public engage in "active law enforcement service" at the request of a peace officer, California treats those members of the public as employees eligible for workers' compensation benefits. However, workers' compensation becomes an individual's exclusive remedy for his or her injuries under state law. At issue in this case was whether the Gunds were engaged in "active law enforcement service" when they assisted law enforcement by checking on a neighbor who had called 911, walked into an active murder scene, and had their throats cut. The Supreme Court held that the Gunds engaged in active law enforcement under California Labor Code 3366 even though the peace officer allegedly misrepresented the situation, and therefore, their only remedy was through workers' compensation. View "Gund v. County of Trinity" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the monetary cap of $500 in statutory damages in Cal. Health & Safety Code 1430(b) applies per action, not per regulatory violation.Section 1430(b) gives a current or former nursing care patient or resident the right to bring a private cause of action against a skilled nursing facility for violating certain regulations. The remedies include injunctive relief, attorney fees, and up to $500 in statutory damages. Plaintiff in the instant case filed a complaint against a nursing facility alleging violations of the Patients Bill of Rights, elder abuse and neglect, and negligence. The jury awarded Plaintiff $100,000 in damages and $95,500 in statutory damages - $250 for each of 382 violations. At issue on appeal was whether the $500 cap is the limit in each action or instead applies to each violation committed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 1430(b) authorizes a $500 per lawsuit cap. View "Jarman v. HCR ManorCare, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that *Cal. Civ. Code 1431.2, subdivision (a) does not authorize a reduction in the liability of intentional tortfeasors for noneconomic damages based on the extent to which the negligence of other actors contributed to the injuries in question.While attempting to subdue Barley, law enforcement officers, including Defendant, used their knees to pin Barley to the ground. Burley eventually lost consciousness and died ten days later. The jury found Defendant had committed battery by using unreasonable force against Burley and that twenty percent of the responsibility for Burley's death was attributable to Defendant's actions. The court entered a judgment against Defendant for the entire amount of the jury's award of noneconomic damages. The Court of Appeal reduced the judgment in accordance with the jury's allocation of responsibility to Defendant, expressly disagreeing with the holding in Thomas v. Duggins Construction Co., 139 Cal.App.4th 1005 (2006), that an intentional tortfeasor is not entitled to a reduction or apportionment of noneconomic damages under section 1431.2, subdivision (a). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because section 1431.2, subdivision (a) incorporates principles of comparative fault, the statute does not entitle Defendant to reduce his liability based on the acts of Burley or the other defendants. View "B.B. v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal, holding that, under the facts of this case, a witness's observation of a company's name and logo appearing on an invoice was circumstantial evidence of identity, not proof of matters asserted in the document, and therefore, Defendant's hearsay objection was properly rejected.Plaintiffs sued Defendants, entities involved in the distribution and use of pipes containing asbestos, claiming that Defendants were liable for his mesothelioma. Only Keenan Properties, Inc.'s liability was at issue in this appeal, and the question turned on whether Keenan was the source of the pipes. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs, and a judgment of $1,626,517 was entered against Keenan. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that descriptions of Keenan sales invoices were hearsay. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court was correct in admitting testimony describing the invoices because the testimony did not convey hearsay. View "Hart v. Keenan Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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In this case concerning the sequence in which Montrose Chemical Corporation, which was sued by causing environmental damage in the Los Angeles area, may access its excess insurance policies covering the period from 1961 to 1985, the Supreme Court held that Montrose may seek indemnification under any excess policy once it has exhausted the underlying excess policies in the same policy period.Montrose purchased primary and excess comprehensive general liability insurance to cover its operations at its Torrance facility from defendant insurers between 1961 and 1985. Montrose's primary insurance was exhausted in litigation due to environmental contamination allegedly caused by Montrose's operation of this facility. At issue was whether Montrose was required to exhaust other insurance coverage from other policy periods. The Supreme Court held (1) Montrose was entitled to access otherwise available coverage under any excess policy once it has exhausted directly underlying excess policies for the same policy period; and (2) an insurer called on to provide indemnification may seek reimbursement from other insurers that would have been liable to provide coverage under excess policies for any period in which the injury occurred. View "Montrose Chemical Corp. of California v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal dismissing an appeal of an order directing an attorney to pay sanctions because the notice of appeal identified the attorney's client as the appealing party but other indicia made it clear that the attorney was the party seeking review, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the notice of appeal should be construed to include the omitted attorney.Attorney represented K.J. in a negligence action against the Los Angeles Unified School District (collectively, LAUSD). During the litigation, LAUSD filed an application seeking sanctions from Attorney. The trial court awarded sanctions based on its finding that Attorney had violated discovery statutes. A notice of appeal was filed by K.J.'s attorney. The court of appeal dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that when a sanctions order is entered against an attorney, the right of appeal is vested in the attorney and not the attorney's client. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that when it is clear from the record that the omitted attorney intended to participate in the appeal and the respondent was not misled or prejudiced by the omission, the rule of liberal construction requires that the notice be construed to include the omitted attorney. View "K.J. v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law