A recent ruling by the First District Court of Appeal offered a useful insight into what happens when you’re a victim of an unfair strategy by your litigation opponent. The decision upheld a lower court’s order giving the family of a deceased trucker a renewed opportunity to pursue their case arising from the fiery crash that killed their loved one. The state’s Department of Transportation carried out a pretrial and trial strategy that unfairly surprised and prejudiced the trucker’s family, and when that happens, you have certain rights, such as the right to a new trial, which the court awarded to the family in this case.
When you are injured in a vehicle accident in California, whether you are a driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian, there are many hurdles along your path to obtaining a damages award to compensate you for the harm you’ve suffered. One of the biggest impediments can be the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company. In one recent case, a pair of teens struck by a drunk driver ended up in a prolonged battle with the driver’s insurance company regarding payment for their injuries. Since the insurance company improperly declined to settle the case, a California court awarded the teens $3 million, and the Second District Court of Appeal recently upheld that decision.
When you are injured in a vehicle accident, there are many steps and hurdles that go with seeking recovery for the harm you’ve suffered. In California, one unique element of this process occurs when you receive a statutory “998 offer” from the party who caused your injuries. Rejecting such an offer and going to trial can carry with it its own set of potential risks related to recovering the fees and costs you rack up in the pursuit of your case. In a recent case originating in Alameda County, an injured motorcyclist avoided these risks because, as the First District Court of Appeal ruled, the terms of the offer he received did not meet the law’s standards for a valid 998 offer.
There are many vital decisions that you must make in an auto accident case. Are you willing to settle, and, if so, for what amount? If you are willing to settle, what degree of authority do you want to hand off to your legal team, and what do you want to hold onto yourself? Sometimes, the success or failure of a case may depend on these strategic decisions. In one case, recently decided by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, the appeals court ruled in favor of an injured woman, deciding that she was not bound by a settlement agreement and was free to litigate the case against the driver who injured her. The injured woman won because the law required proof that the injured woman specifically authorized her law firm to settle the case on her behalf, and the at-fault driver lacked that evidence.
A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling addressed a somewhat uncommon but nevertheless important situation. What happens when the judge in your injury case dismisses the jury but discovers, only minutes later, that the jury delivered a legally incorrect verdict? The high court’s recent decision concluded that, since the jury had not become tainted, and the judge had not issued a final judgment, the judge was allowed to bring the jury back, and the re-crafted verdict that the jury issued in favor of a man injured in an auto accident was allowed to stand.
One of the very difficult positions in which an uninsured person can find herself is to be injured in a vehicle accident due to the negligence of another person. Although the injured person may expect to receive compensation for the harm she suffered, she lacks the up-front money to pay her medical providers. In some cases, an injured person can find relief by contracting with medical providers to receive services in exchange for a lien on the injured person’s future lawsuit damages award. In the case of one uninsured Northern California woman who worked out such an agreement, the mere fact that her doctors sold that lien to a financial company at a discount did not mean that the woman was entitled to receive only a reduced amount of damages, the Third District Court of Appeal decided, upholding a $430,000 lower court judgment in favor of the injured woman.
The accident at the foundation of the case was one in which a vehicle driven by Clare Meline crashed into a vehicle driven by Anna Uspenskaya. Uspenskaya suffered serious back injuries in the crash, including a herniated lumbar disc. That disc problem required surgery to correct. Uspenskaya, who was not covered by insurance, racked up medical bills in excess of $260,000. Unable to pay such a massive sum out-of-pocket, the injured woman struck a deal with her medical providers. In exchange for providing care to the woman, the providers agreed to accept as payment a lien on any damages award Uspenskaya might win in a civil lawsuit. Some time later, the medical providers sold the lien to a financial services company, MedFin Managers LLC, for a discounted amount.
Health insurance touches many parts of our lives, including how much your doctors charge for your care, since insured people often pay less than uninsured people. One way this can affect you is if you are injured in an accident. In an important ruling issued by the California Court of Appeal, the court decided that a man was entitled to recover the full cost of his reasonable medical bills. The fact that an insured person would have incurred lower costs did not affect his right to recover because he was not insured (and therefore incurred higher actual costs), so he was entitled to receive most of the $3.752 million judgment an Orange County jury awarded him.
The victim in this case was Omar Bermudez, a bicyclist who was standing next to his bike on a sidewalk when he had the misfortune of being in the vicinity of an auto accident. Faith Ciolek’s vehicle collided with a vehicle driven by Nathan Heacox, with the impact sending Heacox’s vehicle crashing into Bermudez. The incident caused Bermudez to suffer serious injuries, including, among other things, a broken pelvis that required multiple surgeries to correct and a broken kneecap.
The California Court of Appeal recently affirmed a jury award in a personal injury claim against a negligent truck driver and his employer. In Cabrera v. Gransee (Cal. Ct. App. Apr. 22, 2016), the plaintiff was rear-ended by the defendant, who was operating a vehicle in the course of his employment. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendants for the back injuries he sustained in the collision. Although the defendants admitted that they were responsible for the collision, they disputed the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and the amount of his damages. Following a trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff over $2 million in damages. The defendants appealed, contending that the trial court erred in excluding expert testimony from their witness and that there was insufficient evidence to support the $200,000 award for future medical costs.
In Cabrera, the plaintiff stopped on the road to allow another vehicle to make a turn. The defendant failed to use his brakes and rear-ended him at a speed of approximately 10 to 30 miles per hour, causing the plaintiff’s car to lurch forward 5-10 feet. The plaintiff experienced major back pain and went to the emergency room later that night. For the next several years, the plaintiff sought treatment for his neck and back pain. At trial, the plaintiff presented expert testimony from his doctors that his preexisting degenerative disc disease was exacerbated by the motor vehicle accident, and that the condition was permanent. The defendants rebutted with expert witnesses who testified that the accident did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries, which were the result of ongoing degenerative change in his back. The defendants also sought to present testimony from a biochemical engineer to attest to the medical causation of the injury. However, the trial court ruled that the expert could not testify as to the medical effects caused by the impact of the car accident, since the evidence would be more prejudicial than probative.
In a victory for the plaintiffs, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed an order by a lower court that had sustained a demurrer by the defendants in a wrongful death action. In Kolodzik v. Advanced Cargo Servs., Inc. (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 15, 2016), the plaintiffs brought suit against several defendants after their father was fatally injured in a construction accident. Their suit included a negligence claim against the property owners that hired the independent contractor employing their father to repair a damaged concrete wall on the premises. The plaintiffs alleged that by providing a forklift and entering into an agreement, the defendants owed a duty of care to the victim to provide a safe means by which he could complete the work. However, the trial court sustained the defendants’ demurrers, finding that it was the obligation of the victim’s employer, rather than the defendants, to provide a safe work environment.
In California, the Workers’ Compensation Act provides the exclusive remedy against an employer for the injury or death of an employee. Generally, when an employee of an independent contractor hired to do dangerous work suffers a work-related injury, the employee is limited to recovery under the workers’ compensation system. However, the employee of an independent contractor is not barred from all recovery against the person who hired the contractor. The hirer may be liable to an employee of a contractor insofar as a hirer’s exercise of retained control affirmatively contributed to the employee’s injuries, or insofar as the provision of unsafe equipment affirmatively contributes to the employee’s injury. For example, if the hirer promises to undertake a particular safety measure, the hirer’s negligent failure to do so will generally result in liability if such negligence leads to an employee injury.
In a recent decision, the California Court of Appeals reversed a summary judgment order entered by the trial court against the plaintiff, thereby allowing the plaintiff to proceed with his personal injury action against a cable company. In Reis v. Time Warner N.Y. Cable, LLC (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 18, 2016), the plaintiff brought suit against the defendant after he sustained injuries tripping over a cable that had emerged from the ground in his yard. The defendant moved for summary judgment before trial, which the lower court granted on the basis that the defendant did not install the cable at issue, and therefore the defendant had no duty of care to maintain it because it did not have actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition.
In order to establish liability on a negligence theory in California, a plaintiff must prove duty, breach, causation, and damages. A plaintiff meets the causation element by showing that the defendant’s breach of its duty to exercise ordinary care was a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s harm. In most cases, causation is a question of fact for the jury.
On appeal, the court held that whether or not the defendant had notice of the allegedly defective condition of the cable was indeed a question of fact reserved for the jury. The court explained that when a plaintiff bases his theory of negligence on the failure to correct a dangerous condition, the plaintiff has the burden to show that the defendant had notice of the defect in sufficient time to correct it. However, the plaintiff need not show actual knowledge if the evidence suggests that the dangerous condition was present for a sufficient period of time to impute constructive knowledge to the owner. The court found that despite the fact that the cable company employees were at the plaintiff’s home three times within 90 days of the accident, and neither they nor the plaintiff saw the exposed cable, the evidence did not conclusively establish that the defendant’s conduct complied with the standard of reasonable care.