Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles 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

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal affirming in part and reversing in part the judgment of the trial court granting Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings on certain stock and wage conversion claims, holding that Plaintiff's stock conversion claims should be permitted to proceed but that Plaintiff did not plead a cognizable claim for conversion of wages. Plaintiff worked alongside Defendant to launch three start-up ventures in return for a promise of later payment of wages. Later, Plaintiff was fired and never paid. Plaintiff successfully sued the companies invoking both contract-based and statutory remedies for the nonpayment of wages. In this lawsuit, Plaintiff sought to hold Defendant personally responsible for the unpaid wages on a theory of common law conversion. The trial court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed in part but concluded that extending the tort of conversion to the wage context was not warranted. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a conversion claim was not an appropriate remedy for the wrong alleged in this case. View "Voris v. Lampert" on Justia Law

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In this tort action arising out of a fatal tour bus accident in Arizona, the Supreme Court held that the trial court did not err by declining to reconsider its prior choice of law ruling after an Indiana defendant was dismissed from this case. The parties in this case initially included plaintiffs from China and defendants from both Indiana and California. The trial court conducted the governmental interest test and concluded that Indiana law governed. Before trial, Plaintiffs accepted a settlement offer from the Indiana defendant. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court should have reconsidered the initial choice of law ruling after the Indiana defendant was dismissed from the case. The court then applied the governmental interest test and concluded that California law governed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) given the importance of determining the choice of law early in a case, the circumstances in which trial courts are required to revisit a choice of law determination should be the exception and not the rule; and (2) the trial court in this case was not required to reconsider the prior choice of law ruling based on the Indiana defendant's settlement. View "Chen v. Los Angeles Truck Centers, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this negligence case, the Supreme Court held that the immunity provision of the Government Claims Act (GCA) that bars any statutory liability that might otherwise exist for injuries resulting from the condition of firefighting equipment or facilities, Cal. Gov't Code 850.4, does not deprive a court of fundamental jurisdiction but, rather, operates as an affirmative defense to liability. Plaintiff sued the Chester Fire Protection District and the Garden Valley Fire Protection District alleging that Defendants created a "dangerous condition" of public property for which public entities may be held liable under Cal. Gov't Code 835. Defendants did not allege the immunity conferred by section 850.4. After trial began, defense counsel presented a written motion for nonsuit in which Defendants for the first time invoked section 850.4. Plaintiff objected on the ground that Defendants waived section 850.4 immunity by failing to invoke the immunity in their answer. The trial court overruled the objection, concluding that governmental immunity is jurisdictional and can't be waived. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 850.4 immunity operates as an affirmative defense and not a jurisdictional bar. The Court remanded the case so the court of appeal may address the parties' remaining arguments in the first instance. View "Quigley v. Garden Valley Fire Protection District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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In this case concerning a massive, four-month-long leak from a natural gas storage facility located outside Los Angeles the Supreme Court held that local businesses, none of which alleged they suffered personal injury or property damage, may not recover in negligence for income lost because of the leak. Plaintiffs were businesses seeking to represent a class of persons and entities conducting businesses within the area of the leak, arguing that by depriving local businesses of customers the environmental disaster cost local businesses considerable earnings. Defendant demurred, arguing that Plaintiffs' negligence claims failed as a matter of law because Plaintiffs were seeking to recover for purely economic losses. The trial court overruled the demurrer. The court of appeal reversed, holding that California law did not permit recovery for the purely economic losses sought by Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not have a tort duty to guard against purely economic losses. View "Southern California Gas Leak Co. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal insofar as it held that the trial court erred in dismissing certain of Plaintiff’s causes of action, holding an employee who believes he or she has not been paid the wages due under the applicable labor statutes and wages orders may not maintain causes of action for unpaid wages against a payroll service provider for breach of contract, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation. While the court of appeal agreed that a payroll company cannot properly be considered an employer of the hiring business’s employee that may be liable for failure to pay wages that are due, the court held that the employee may maintain the causes of action that were dismissed in this case by the trial court. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the court of appeal erred (1) in holding that an employee may maintain a breach of contract action against the payroll company under the third party beneficiary doctrine; and (2) in determining that an employee who alleges that he or she has not been paid wages that are due may maintain causes of action for negligence and negligent misrepresentation against a payroll company. View "Goonewardene v. ADP, LLC" on Justia Law

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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

Posted in: Personal Injury
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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

Posted in: Personal Injury