Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a California workplace injury lawsuit that was brought by the family of a man who died after falling while washing windows on the defendant’s building. The case required the court to discuss the concept of third-party liability as it pertains to workplace injury lawsuits. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant corporation was not liable to the deceased’s estate because the corporation took no “affirmative conduct” that caused the man’s fall.

Window WasherThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a man who fell to his death while washing windows at the defendant’s three-story building. At the time, the victim was employed by a company that had contracted with the defendant corporation. The plaintiffs filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant corporation, claiming that it was negligent for the defendant not to install roof anchors that the deceased could have used to anchor his descent apparatus. The roof anchors were required by statute.

The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that under the prevailing case law, it could not be held liable because it had contracted with the window-washing company and retained no control over how the work would be completed. Essentially, the defendant argued that it delegated the duty of providing a safe workplace to the window-washing company, and since the defendant did not instruct the company on how the work was to be completed, the defendant did not otherwise assume a duty of care.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California premises liability lawsuit discussing the element of causation and which evidence must be presented to survive a defense challenge for summary judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant met his initial burden of showing that the plaintiff would be unable to establish causation, and the plaintiff failed to present any evidence to the contrary. Thus, the court held that the plaintiff’s case was properly dismissed.

Lit MatchThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs lived in a second-floor apartment in a building owned by the defendant. One day, a fire started in the plaintiffs’ apartment, causing several of the tenants to suffer burn injuries. The plaintiffs filed a premises liability lawsuit against the landlord, claiming that a wall heater in the apartment was defective.

The defendant presented two experts who testified that the cause of the fire was the wall heater. However, neither expert could definitively say whether the wall heater was defective or whether combustible material – such as a blanket or couch – was placed too close to the heater. The plaintiffs did not present any evidence during the motion.

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When an individual files a California personal injury claim, one of the most important issues is understanding which types of financial compensation the individual may able to recover, which can vary depending on the type of claim. One type of damages award an individual may be able to recover is called “compensatory” damages.

Highway at NightThe purpose of compensatory damages is to justly compensate the plaintiff for the loss or injury sustained, and to restore the plaintiff to his or her previous position, insofar as it is possible. Compensatory damages can include any financial compensation for “loss” or “detriment.” A plaintiff must prove that the damages were caused by the defendant’s actions and show the extent of the harm caused. Even if a plaintiff is determined to be entitled to compensatory damages, a plaintiff still has a responsibility to mitigate his or her damages to the extent possible. That means that a plaintiff will not be compensated for damages that the plaintiff could have avoided through reasonable effort or expenditure.

Another type of damages is called “exemplary” or “punitive” damages. According to California law, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and to set an example for others. In California, a plaintiff can only recover punitive damages in a tort claim and only if the plaintiff suffers an actual injury. To recover punitive damages, a plaintiff must prove “by clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant is guilty of “oppression, fraud or malice.” The idea is that in those cases, since the defendants’ actions were so reprehensible, those defendants should be punished, and others may be deterred from engaging in similar conduct in the future.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a California wrongful death case requiring the court to determine the validity of an arbitration agreement. Specifically, the court had to decide whether the arbitration agreement could be enforced against the deceased’s son, when he signed the agreement on behalf of his father.

Contract ReviewCalifornia Arbitration Agreements

An arbitration agreement is a contract between parties that preemptively agrees to settle any future claims that may arise between the parties through arbitration, rather than through the court system. The benefits to arbitration mainly inure to the company creating the contract, since that is the party that has the opportunity to choose the arbitration forum. In addition, arbitration is widely considered to be less expensive and more expedient than the traditional court system. Thus, it can be seen why large companies hope to arbitrate claims against them.

However, arbitration is not normally in the interest of an accident victim, who is less familiar with the forum and may be less concerned about the cost of litigation. Additionally, arbitration presents strict, non-uniform procedural rules that, if not followed, may result in the waiver of a valid claim.

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In California, most personal injury claims are a result of negligent conduct. California courts have defined negligence as conduct that fails to meet the standard established by law to protect others. The accident victim (the plaintiff) can sue a negligent person or entity (the defendant) for damages. To prove a negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that there was a duty to use due care, there was a breach of that duty, and the breach was the proximate cause of a resulting injury. The plaintiff has the burden to prove each of the elements in a negligence claim.

Blurred RoadThe first element is the existence of a duty. Generally, everyone must exercise reasonable care to avoid putting others at an unreasonable risk of harm. Whether there is a duty is a question of law that a court must decide. The plaintiff also has to show that the defendant breached the duty by failing to meet the standard of care under the circumstances. The plaintiff must also show that the defendant’s breach was the actual cause of the injury and the proximate cause of the injury. Finally, the plaintiff must show that he or she suffered an injury to person or property.

California now follows a system of pure comparative negligence. This means that after a jury assigns responsibility for an injury in a California car accident case, the plaintiff can still recover damages even if the plaintiff is partly at fault. And unlike in many jurisdictions, a plaintiff can still recover even if the plaintiff is found to be mostly at fault for the injury. The purpose of the pure comparative negligence system is to assign responsibility for injuries in proportion to each party’s negligence.

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When a loved one is tragically killed, the victim’s relatives often suffer an immense emotional and financial toll. Family members may suffer from a loss of income, as well as a loss of companionship, support, and consortium. A California wrongful death claim is one way for the aggrieved loved ones to obtain compensation for their loss. These wrongful death claims must be brought by the decedent’s spouse, domestic partner, children, and certain heirs, or a dependent putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, and parents, or a decedent’s minor dependents in some circumstances. The goal of the wrongful death lawsuit is to allow certain persons to recover compensation for the loss resulting from the decedent’s death.

Bicycle BellTo prove a wrongful death claim in California, a plaintiff must show that there was a wrongful act, a resulting death, and damages suffered by the plaintiff. Any person or entity whose wrongful act caused the decedent’s death is a potential defendant in a wrongful death claim. Generally, wrongful death actions must be brought within two years of the date of the wrongful act.

A plaintiff can recover damages for financial benefits the plaintiff would have received from the decedent, including “necessities of life,” other financial contributions, and the increased estate the plaintiff would likely have received; loss of services, advice, or training the plaintiff would likely have received from the decedent; loss of their companionship, comfort, and affection; and funeral and burial expenses.

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In a recent California injury case, an appellate court ordered the losing parties to pay additional costs because they rejected a settlement offer before trial. In that case, two individuals died in a fire that occurred in a home they were renting. One was a three-year-old child, and the other was a 49-year-old mother. After the fire, the victims’ families sued the owners of the home.

GavelBefore trial, the plaintiffs made an offer to settle both claims for $1.5 million, but the defendants rejected the offer. The case went to trial, and the plaintiffs won, with the jury awarding the plaintiffs $2.2 million in the mother’s claim and $357,000 in the child’s claim. After the trial, the court ordered the defendants to pay additional costs because the defendants rejected the settlement offer.

Costs Under Section 998

Generally, the party that wins in a civil case can recover certain costs. In addition, in California, section 998 of the Code of Civil Procedure punishes a party that refuses a reasonable settlement offer by allowing the offering party to recover certain costs. Section 998 allows the prevailing party to recover additional costs and fees that are not generally available, such as expert witness fees.

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Semi-trucks are some of the largest vehicles on the road, weighing up to 80,000 pounds once fully loaded with cargo. Needless to say, given the size and weight of these trucks when loaded with cargo, semi-trucks pose a major danger to all motorists. Indeed, according to the California Highway Patrol, there are over 5,000 California truck accidents each year. Of those, about 270 resulted in at least one fatality.

Dump TruckWhile there are many causes of California truck accidents, one of the significant causes is equipment failure. An equipment failure may result due to the mechanics of the semi-truck, to the hardware used to connect the truck to the trailer, or to the trailer itself. A few of the systems that are frequently involved in an equipment failure are:

  • The truck’s braking system;

Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a California premises liability case requiring the court to discuss under which circumstances a person who attempts to come to the aid of another person, but fails to help them, can be held responsible for any preventable injuries. The court ultimately concluded that under the “negligent undertaking” theory of liability, the hotel may have assumed a duty of care to provide reasonable assistance to the hotel guest by assuring the guest’s husband that a hotel employee would check on his wife in her hotel room.

Hotel RoomThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff checked into the defendant hotel, which was about an hour away from the couple’s residence. The plaintiff and her husband had been visiting the hotel for a number of years and owned timeshare privileges at the hotel. After the plaintiff arrived, her husband tried to reach the plaintiff on her cell phone. However, the plaintiff did not answer.

Fearing that his wife was hurt, the plaintiff’s husband called the front desk and asked them to check on his wife. The front desk attendant called the room, and no one answered. Then, the attendant asked a maintenance worker to perform a welfare check on the plaintiff. The maintenance worker knocked on the door, opened it, and saw that the room was dark. He then returned to the front desk, reporting that the plaintiff was not in her room.

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Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have revolutionized the way we get from point A to point B, making it significantly easier for passengers to hail a ride. Indeed, by all accounts, passengers nationwide have adopted the new technology with open arms. By some estimates, rideshare drivers provided service to approximately 45 million passengers last year. What is more, that figure is expected to rise to over 70 million passengers by 2022.

Golden Gate BridgeIt is not surprising, then, that the number of car accidents involving rideshare drivers has increased correspondingly. Making matters worse is the fact that rideshare companies do little to ensure that their drivers are “good drivers.” In most cases, all someone needs to qualify to be a rideshare driver is three years of driving experience, a clean driving record, and an insured vehicle.

While rideshare companies do not apply a rigorous selection criteria to their drivers, they do maintain significant insurance in the event of an accident. The two largest rideshare companies, Uber and Lyft, each maintain $1 million of insurance on behalf of their drivers. This insurance covers the driver from the moment they accept a passenger’s request for a ride until the passenger is dropped off. The policy will generally cover an injury to the driver or the passenger, as well as any third parties injured in an accident that was caused by the driver’s negligence.

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