California’s beautiful weather year-round means people are always taking advantage of all of nature and recreational activities available outdoors. Whether you prefer to hike, bike, or just enjoy a local walking trail, there’s something for everyone. These outdoor recreational spaces, however, can sometimes pose unknown or unexpected dangers. However, when accidents occur at a local park or recreational area, accident victims may face legal hurdles when pursuing a personal injury lawsuit.

In a recent California Court of Appeal decision, the court considered a claim relating to trail immunity. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff frequently rode bis bicycle through a local park, where a fence created a physical barrier that cyclists had to maneuver around when moving along the trail. At some point unknown to the plaintiff, the old fence was replaced with a wire cable type fence.

On the day of the accident, the plaintiff was riding his bicycle along the trail, did not see the wire cables strung between the new fence posts, and mistakenly believed he could ride through them. When he attempted to do so, he was thrown from his bicycle over the handlebars and onto the ground, suffering serious injuries. The plaintiff sued the local county in charge of maintaining the park. The county responded by asserting that the plaintiff’s claims were under the county’s trail immunity. The lower court sided with the defendants, holding that because the new fencing was a “condition” of the trail, the defendants were immune from legal action.

Recently, a California appellate court issued an opinion in a plaintiff’s product liability lawsuit against the popular online marketplace, Amazon, LLC (Amazon). According to the court’s opinion, the case arose after the plaintiff purchased a replacement laptop battery from a seller on Amazon. Amazon facilitated the payment, charged the plaintiff, retrieved the battery from an Amazon warehouse, prepared the product, and mailed it to the plaintiff. The battery exploded a few months after the plaintiff purchased and installed the product. The explosion caused the plaintiff to suffer serious burns.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against several parties, including Amazon and the seller who listed the website’s battery. The seller did not appear, and as such, the trial court entered a default judgment against them. Amazon moved to dismiss the case, arguing that they cannot be liable if they did not sell, distribute, or manufacture the product. The trial court found in favor of Amazon, and the plaintiffs appealed. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that Amazon is strictly liable for defective products it lists on its website.

Strict liability is a theory that imposes legal responsibility on sellers, distributors, manufacturers for defective products, regardless of whether the party engaged in any negligence. Unlike many other types of personal injury cases, strict liability does not require the fact finder to determine the defendant was negligent. In most strict liability cases, the plaintiff must establish that the product was unreasonably safe when designed, manufactured, or sold. The seller intended or expected that the product would reach the consumer, and the plaintiff suffered actual harm by the defective product.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a lawsuit stemming from a fatal California car accident. The record indicates that the victim was driving around 70 miles per hour on a highway in the same lane as the defendant. The defendant saw a car stopped in the middle of the highway in front of him and moved over to pass the stopped vehicle. When the defendant was about 300 feet past the car, he saw the victim’s car collide with the stopped vehicle. The collision caused the victim’s car to leave the lane it was in, colliding with another vehicle. The defendant saw the accident in his rear-view mirror, and called 911.

The victim’s representative filed a complaint against several parties, including the driver of the stopped car, the driver of the car that hit the victim, the owner of the stopped vehicle, and the owner of the vehicle that hit the victim. Sometime after the original complaint, the plaintiff added the defendant as a party, reasoning that the defendant’s late lane change prevented the victim from noticing the vehicle stopped in the middle of the road. In response, the defendant cited California’s sudden emergency doctrine. The trial court agreed that the doctrine provided the defendant with a complete defense, and the plaintiff appealed.

California’s “sudden emergency” or “imminent peril” doctrine protects defendants from liability in a negligence lawsuit. It typically applies when a defendant, who was otherwise acting with reasonable care, is suddenly and unexpectedly faced with an emergency that the defendant did not cause. To prevail on this defense, a defendant must establish three main elements. A defendant must prove that the events arose when there was a sudden emergency where someone was in actual or imminent injury, the defendant did not cause the emergency, and the defendant acted with due care, even if an alternative action was safer.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a California product liability claim against a pet store company after a man’s son contracted a bacterial infection from a rat he purchased at the store. The 10-year-old kept his rat in a vivarium at his grandmother’s house, but he occasionally held the animals outside the cage. About two weeks after the purchase, the young boy developed a fever and collapsed. Tragically, he passed away at the hospital shortly after he arrived. An analysis of his blood and tissue samples revealed that the rat carried the bacteria that caused the boy’s infection.

After his son’s death, the plaintiff alleged, among other claims, that the pet store was strictly liable for injuries that stemmed from the sale of the pet rat. The trial court issued a jury instruction under an ordinary negligence theory based on failure to warn, manufacturing defects, and design defects. However, on appeal, the plaintiff contended that the jury should have received a consumer expectations test warning instruction.

In analyzing the case, the court explained that California products liability law applies in situations where the defendant supplies goods or products for the use of others. These defendants are liable to losses that purchasers, users, or bystanders suffer because of the product’s defects. Although California law does not address whether animals are a product for strict liability purposes, courts generally rely on supplemental guidance, which explains that pets carrying bacteria are not subject to design defect claims.

A state appellate court recently addressed the applicability of the consumer expectations test in a California product liability claim against a forklift manufacturer. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries when a forklift he was operating tipped over. The forklift at issue is known as a “telehandler,” which is designed to work on rough terrain and travel off paved surfaces. These devices have a telescopic boom that can extend to carry loads to high elevations.

The telehandler had a steel cage around the operator that worked as a rollover protective system. The machine also had a two-point seat belt and a leveling system that allowed the operator to flatten a slope about 10 degrees. However, the safety manual warned that the telehandler should not be used on any slope over 10 degrees. Additionally, the manual stated that operators should not travel with the boom elevated because doing so could cause a rollover. The telehandler was sold with a door; however, in this case, the door was removed before the incident.

On the day of the incident, the plaintiff was asked to move several industrial ovens at a worksite. After performing an inspection of the machine, he got into the telehandler and traveled to the area with the ovens. He did this without wearing a seat belt and with the boom elevated. When he reached the area, and began to back up, the telehandler fell on its side, and the plaintiff fell out of the forklift.

A state appellate court was recently tasked with deciding whether an amusement park could be held liable in a California product liability case after the plaintiff was injured while riding on a waterslide. The issue was whether the defendant amusement park was providing a service rather than a product. Ultimately, the court concluded that the record was insufficient to show the amusement park primarily delivered a service, and therefore, summary judgment for the defendant on the product liability claim was denied. Thus, the plaintiff’s case will be permitted to proceed towards trial or settlement negotiations.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured going down a waterslide at the amusement park. After slipping from a seated position on the inner tube onto his stomach, he fractured his hip and pelvis when his feet hit the bottom of the pool. Among other issues, the plaintiff claimed that the waterslide was a defective product that caused his injuries.

The amusement park claimed that it could not be held liable under a product liability theory because it provided a service, rather than a product. A successful product liability claim can hold a supplier or producer of a defective product liable, and also allows a plaintiff to recover compensation for injuries resulting from the defective product. However, product liability claims do not apply when the defendant is delivering a “service” to the consumer rather than supplying a product. For this particular case, the court needed to determine whether guests pay the admission fee to the amusement park to use the waterslides, in which case products liability applies, or if the admission fee is paid to obtain a service which may include the use of waterslides.

In a recent opinion, a California court refused to hold a ridesharing company liable for an accident caused by one of its drivers. The driver was using a car made available to him through the ridesharing company when he caused a California car accident resulting in injuries to two other motorists. The injured motorists filed a lawsuit against the ridesharing company, as well as the driver, arguing that the ridesharing company should be held liable for the driver’s actions while using a car provided through the driver’s employment. The ridesharing company denied legal responsibility, arguing that the driver was engaged in purely personal activity at the time of the accident.

The main issue, in this case, was whether the driver was acting within the scope of their employment when the accident occurred. An employer may be held liable for injuries wrongfully caused by an employee where the injured party filing the lawsuit proves that the person who caused the injury was acting “within the scope” of their employment. Conversely, an employer is not liable where the employee’s activity was “purely personal.

California uses two tests to determine whether an employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of an accident. The first is the Purton test, which considers whether the employee’s activity was undertaken with the employer’s permission, and whether it was of some benefit to the employer or typical within the context of employment. The second test is the Halliburton test, which considers whether the activity was required or incident to the employee’s duties, or whether the employee’s misconduct was reasonably foreseeable by the employer.

Recently, a young woman who was struck and suffered serious injuries in a crosswalk filed an appeal in a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles (the City). According to the court’s opinion, the high school sophomore was hit by a car in a crosswalk while she was walking to school. The young woman filed a personal injury lawsuit against the City, arguing that the intersection was a dangerous condition. She contended that the City was in the process of installing a traffic signal at the scene of the accident, but it was untimely and incomplete when the accident occurred.

During discovery, the plaintiff obtained information about a previous fatal pedestrian accident at the same intersection. Discovery included documents related to the City’s investigation of the earlier incident, including their application for federal funds through the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). In response, the defendant objected, arguing that the intersection did not constitute a dangerous condition and moved to preclude the admission of the HSIP application documents under title 23 of the U.S. Code section 409 (section 409). On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the privilege under section 409 did not apply to the HSIP application, and even if it did, the defendant waived their privilege.

Congress enacted the Hazard Elimination Program to encourage the federal government and states to work in concert to improve road conditions and safety. States that apply for funds through this program must engage in a thorough evaluation of its roads and present the entity with its findings. In response to confidentiality issues, Congress enacted section 409, which precludes admission of these documents into evidence, for any action for damages. In this case, the plaintiff conceded that the documents she presented were a part of the HSIP application, but claimed that the privilege does not apply because it was not a “report, survey, schedule, list or data,” within the meaning of section 409. The court found that the application was exactly the type of document section 409 was designed to protect, and the court’s search for truth in a civil matter does not outweigh Congress’ intent to protect those that are applying for federal funds.

Recently, a California appeals court issued an opinion addressing a plaintiff’s evidentiary burden in a premises liability lawsuit. The appeal stems from a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of a 16-year-old girl who died after a freight train hit her. The teenage girl routinely crossed a railroad to reach her bus stop. On the day of the accident, the railroad crossing was flashing warning lights and bells to indicate an oncoming train. However, the girl continued on the path with her head down, and as she stepped onto the tracks, the freight train struck her. The girl died on impact.

The girl’s family filed a premises liability and negligence lawsuit against the freight train company, alleging that the freight train company owned the crossing, knew it posed a danger, and failed to ensure appropriate safety measures, such as pedestrian barriers. The freight train company moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not possess a duty to make the premises safe because they did not own, possess, or control the railroad tracks or the land surrounding the area. Further, they claimed that they did not negligently operate the freight train.

In support of their motion for summary judgment, the train company provided evidence of a shared-use agreement between the train company and the entity that owned the land. The agreement stated that the freight train company only possessed the right to use the tracks and warning systems, but did not own or operate the railroad or surrounding property.

Recently, an appellate court issued a ruling on an appeal stemming from a California products liability suit. A woman specifically claimed, amongst other issues, that the company was liable for negligence, false representation, and intentional failure to warn/conceal the asbestos in their cosmetic and baby powders. Further, her husband filed claims based on the loss of consortium. The plaintiff argued that she developed malignant mesothelioma after using the company’s products daily for 20 years.

Johnson & Johnson moved for summary judgment based on its expert testimony that the company’s talcum powder and talc did not contain asbestos. Further, they argued that the plaintiffs did not present any expert testimony refuting the company’s expert testimony. The plaintiffs countered that the evidentiary burden did not shift to them because their discovery answers were sufficient, and in the alternative, their evidence demonstrated that the mines contained asbestos.

Under California law, if a defendant makes a “prima facie showing of the nonexistence of any triable issue” of material fact, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to make a contrary showing. California courts have found that if a defendant manufacturer meets its initial burden of production by making a prima facie showing that the plaintiff does not and cannot produce sufficient exposure evidence, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must then present evidence to raise a triable issue of material fact. In instances where a plaintiff’s claim stems from using a product not designed to contain asbestos, plaintiffs must show that it was “more likely than not” that the product was contaminated. Historically, courts have only overruled a defendant’s summary judgment motion in talc asbestos cases when the plaintiff presented expert testimony on the issue of contamination and exposure.

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