When someone is injured as a result of another’s risky or negligent behavior, state law allows them to bring a California personal injury suit to recover for their injuries. In order to establish liability in California, the plaintiff must prove the elements of negligence. First, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed her a duty of care. Next, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached that duty. Third, the plaintiff must prove that she was injured, and then the plaintiff must establish that the defendant’s breach of duty was a proximate cause of her injury. While this may seem straightforward, a plaintiff can be barred from recovery if she fails to prove just one of these elements.

For instance, take a recent California appellate court case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was visiting the defendants’ home in Sonora, California, when she fell on a step leading from the house to the garage. She fell to the floor and suffered injuries to her right wrist and to her humerus. It was later discovered that the garage step violated several provisions of the Uniform Building Code (UBC), although defendants were unaware of these violations at the time of the accident.

The plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the defendants, arguing that they were negligent and that the garage step, due to the UBC violations, was an unreasonably dangerous condition that caused her injuries. While it may seem at first glance that the plaintiff had a strong negligence claim, the court ultimately dismissed her claim because she could not prove that the defendants breached their duty. According to the court, the defendants did owe a duty of care to the defendant, who was visiting their property. Landowners breach this duty of care if they do not take reasonable precautions to ensure that dangerous conditions do not exist on the property, or that visitors are warned if they do. However, in this case, the defendants did not know about the UBC violations. The court found that the plaintiff had not met her burden to prove that the defendants should have known or been on alert for the dangerous condition created by the garage step. As such, missing a critical element of negligence, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed and she was unable to recover.

In a recent written opinion, a California appellate court discussed when evidence from an expert witness who is not on a party’s expert-witness list can be considered in a personal injury claim. According to the court’s opinion, in 2013 the plaintiff was an incarcerated in a county jail and was taken to and from court on a county bus. The plaintiff testified at trial that the bus hit a beam while parking, causing the inmate to whom the plaintiff was chained to sway, ultimately pulling the plaintiff off of his seat and onto the floor of the bus. A videotaped interview after the accident showed the plaintiff saying clearly that he was not injured in this accident, but the plaintiff asserts that shortly after the interview he began to feel pain. According to the plaintiff, this injury required he see both a doctor and a chiropractor regularly, amassing significant medical bills.

At trial, the plaintiff’s doctor testified that he believed the plaintiff’s injuries stemmed from the 2013 bus accident, and that the plaintiff required future surgery, estimated at around $90,000. The defendant county called another doctor as an expert witness to testify, but this doctor was not on their list of expert witnesses submitted to the court. Under California law, he was allowed to testify, but only in order to “impeach” the evidence of the plaintiff’s doctor. Impeachment testimony is permissible if it focuses on negating a specific fact used by another party’s witness to draw their conclusion. However, impeachment testimony cannot be simply used as pretext for offering a contrary opinion. The defendant’s added witness testified, stating that the plaintiff’s doctor had reached the wrong conclusion and misunderstood or misapplied medical science. At the end of trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff but awarding him far less damages than he sought, seeming to rely on the defendant’s expert witness’s testimony undercutting the plaintiff’s doctor.

The plaintiff appealed the verdict, in part arguing that the defendant’s expert witness’s testimony was beyond the scope of permissible impeachment and should not have been considered. The appellate court agreed, finding that the defendant’s witness, when discussing the plaintiff’s doctor testimony, did not aim to negate or deny a specific fact used by the doctor. Instead, according to the court, the defendant’s doctor offered his own, contrary opinion, which went beyond the scope of permissible impeachment. As such, the jury should not have been allowed to consider the testimony, and the court remanded the case for a new trial.

A state appellate court recently considered when an “excuse” jury instruction is appropriate in a California car accident case. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was driving on the highway when a mattress suddenly flew at her vehicle, causing her to swerve and hit the barrier. Eye-witnesses stated that they saw the mattress come from the defendant’s truck, and the plaintiff sued. California law requires that vehicles be loaded so that the materials on them stay put. The plaintiff alleged negligence per se, which is a finding of negligence based on a violation of the law.

The trial court gave a jury instruction stating that a violation of the law is excused if it is found that the defendant was using reasonable care but was still unable to obey the law. The jury found that the defendant was not negligent. However, at trial, the defendant driver stated that there was no mattress in his truck on the day in question. The jury, in reaching its decision, did not state whether it was based on a finding that the defendant’s truck was not the source of the mattress or whether the defendant had an excuse, based on the instruction in question. The plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court agreed with the plaintiff that the excuse instruction was improper and remanded the case back to the trial court. The court explained that the situation at hand did not present the special circumstances necessary to warrant an excuse instruction. There was no evidence that the defendant used reasonable care to ensure there was no mattress in the back of his truck because he relied on his coworker’s word that the truck was empty, even though it would have been relatively easy for him to check himself. Nor was there evidence that the defendant was unable to comply with the law in question, requiring items in trucks to be secured. Because there were no special circumstances, the court held that the excuse instruction was improperly given. Additionally, the court’s opinion explained that the instruction was improperly worded in that it failed to make clear that the burden to establish the excuse is on the defendant, rather than the plaintiff.

In a California personal injury case, a plaintiff can seek various damages depending on the injuries they sustained and the effects those injuries are expected to have in the future. Common types of damages awards include those for lost wages, past medical expenses, and past pain and suffering. However, serious accidents often have lasting consequences on a plaintiff’s life, and, commonly, plaintiffs will suffer damages that occur well after the conclusion of the trial. In these cases, courts allow plaintiffs to seek future damages.

Types of future damages awards include amounts for lost future income, future medical expenses, and for any future pain and suffering. The award of future damages presents an interesting issue in that the future value of these damages award may not be equal to the present value of the same sum. This is because of the effect of compound interest. For example, if someone is promised $1,000 ten years from now, the present value of that $1,000 is less than $1,000.

The actual present value is the amount that, if invested today, will yield $1,000 in 10 years. Of course, this depends on the interest rate, but the effect can be significant. To illustrate the significance of this concept, the present value of $1,000 to be received in 10 years, at a discount rate of 5% is $614.

California accident victims can pursue a claim for compensation against anyone they believe to be responsible for their injuries. To successfully bring such a claim, a plaintiff must be able to establish that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of their injury. This is referred to as the element of causation.

To establish causation, a plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than not that the plaintiff’s injury was a result of the defendant’s conduct. However, causation cannot be based solely on speculation. The mere possibility that the defendant’s conduct was the cause is insufficient to prove causation; a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty was a proximate or legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Generally, the jury must decide if the plaintiff has proved causation. However, if the issue of causation involves a legal determination, the court can decide whether causation is sufficient in a motion for summary judgment.

California injury cases can be complicated and may involve multiple parties. A defendant’s negligent conduct does not need to be the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injury in order for a jury to find them liable for the injury. California law follows the “substantial factor” test in determining cause-in-fact. That means to meet the causation element, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury. If a defendant’s conduct took place at the same time as other acts, the defendant’s conduct may be a “substantial factor” if the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct. If the simultaneous negligence of two parties contributes to the plaintiff’s injury, each person’s acts will be considered the proximate cause, and the plaintiff may recover full compensation from either person, or both.

In April of 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California premises liability case discussing the application of the state’s “firefighter’s rule.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the case did not implicate the firefighter’s rule.

The firefighter’s rule is an exception to the general rule that landowners have a duty to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. Originally, the firefighter’s rule applied to firefighters and emergency personnel who put themselves at risk while engaging in the necessary functions of the job. Essentially, the firefighter’s rule prohibits a firefighter from pursuing a claim against a landowner because the firefighter is said to have assumed the risk of injury by agreeing to work in that capacity.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a site manager at a home in Beverly Hills. The home was architecturally unique in that there was a cantilevered concrete platform that extended from a steep hill, designed to look as though it was floating. The owner of the property, the defendant, rented the home for special events.

In a recent state appellate opinion, a California appellate court dismissed a plaintiff’s claim that arose after the plaintiff was injured at a carnival which was held on school grounds. The issue before the court was whether the school district could be held liable based on the placement and operation of an inflatable slide, which the plaintiff claimed was a hazardous condition.

According to the court’s opinion, a school booster group held the carnival at the school as a fundraising event. The group organized the event, and chose the company that provided the inflatable slide, and supervised its set-up and use. During the carnival, the plaintiff’s three-year-old son climbed up the slide, but was scared to go down, so the plaintiff ascended the slide in order to retrieve his son. As the plaintiff was on the slide, it suddenly deflated and tipped over. The plaintiff sued the school district for his injuries, alleging that the district was at fault because the slide was not tethered to the ground and because it was placed in a dangerous location.

Under Section 38134 of California’s Education Code, a public school is designated as a “civic center,” which means that it must allow nonprofit organizations to use school grounds for youth and school activities. Section 38134 specifically divides liability between school districts and the entities that use school grounds. The statute provides that a school district is liable for injuries that result from the school district’s negligence “in the ownership and maintenance of the school facilities or grounds.” In contrast, an entity that uses school facilities or grounds is liable for injuries that result from the entity’s negligence “during the use of the school facilities or grounds.” In addition, an entity using school grounds is responsible for obtaining insurance to protect against the risk of liability.

In a recent opinion, a federal appeals court was tasked with deciding whether a plaintiff whose Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) claim was not properly filed as a minor could file his claim beyond the statute of limitations. The case is a precedential decision for cases in the court’s jurisdiction, including California car accident cases.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s father died in a car crash on an Arizona highway in 2005. The plaintiff’s mother filed a claim with the federal agency over two years later, and then filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. She claimed deficiencies in the highway barrier involved in the father’s crash. The plaintiff was nine years old when his father died and sixteen when the suit was filed.

Filing a Claim Under the Federal Tort Claims Act

The Federal Tort Claims Act allows people to sue the United States government and its agencies for certain torts committed by federal employees while acting within the scope of their official duties. In an FTCA claim, a claimant must show that: (1) injury or property damages caused by a federal employee; (2) the employee was acting within the scope of his official duties; (3) the employee acted negligently or wrongfully; and (4) the act proximately caused the damages.

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A California appellate court recently considered a case in which a plaintiff claimed that the city was at fault for failing to repaint a city crosswalk. The plaintiff sued the city of Salinas, California after she was hit by a car while walking across the street. The plaintiff was in the crosswalk at the time she was hit, which had not been repainted in sixteen years and was almost completely faded. The plaintiff claimed that the condition of the crosswalk amounted to a dangerous condition.

Under a city ordinance, the city was required to maintain crosswalks at intersections with the appropriate markings. Based on the ordinance, the plaintiff asked that the jury be read instructions on the concept of negligence per se.

Negligence Per Se

Negligence per se refers to a finding of negligence based on a violation of the law. If negligence per se applies, the defendant is presumed to have breached the duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff. For example, there might be a finding of negligence per se in a California drunk driving accident.

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Earlier last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case discussing whether an employer could be held vicariously liable for the allegedly negligent acts of an employee. The court ultimately concluded that vicarious liability was appropriate, and allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed to trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was injured after being involved in a car accident. Evidently, the plaintiff was riding as a passenger in the pick-up truck that was being driven by his father. The truck was provided to the plaintiff’s father as a company car.

The plaintiff’s father was a maintenance worker for the defendant corporation, which operated several farms in the area. The plaintiff’s father reportedly worked six days a week, but was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to attend to any maintenance issues that arose at any of the defendant’s properties. The plaintiff’s father kept a toolbox in the pick-up truck, and was told by the defendant that he was expected to respond to any maintenance issue immediately. Thus, the employer allowed the plaintiff to use the pick-up truck for personal use.

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