A recent case before the California Court of Appeal addressed whether it was reasonable for the defendant to reasonably believe he would prevail at trial on the issue of liability stemming from a car accident. While the defendant claimed he entered an intersection during a yellow light, the plaintiffs and substantial evidence suggested that the defendant ran a red light. The defendant failed to admit this fact in response to requests for admissions (RFA), and the plaintiffs sought to recover the costs of proof under Code of Civil Procedure section 2033.420.
Timothy Grace and his wife, Michelle Blair, prevailed in a personal injury action against Levik Mansourian and his mother, Satina Mansourian. They then filed a motion to recover the costs of proof, based on the defendants’ failure to admit specific information in response to requests for admissions. The trial court denied the motion, and the plaintiffs appealed.
In this case, the defendant was driving into an intersection when he hit a car driven by the plaintiff. While the defendant claimed he thought he could pass through the intersection while the light was yellow, an eyewitness told the defendants’ insurance company that the defendant ran a red light.
The plaintiffs alleged the defendant hit the plaintiffs after running a red light, and they filed a personal injury action to recover compensation. The plaintiffs sought damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of use of property, wage loss, loss of earning capacity, and loss of consortium.
In reviewing the law applicable to RFAs, the appellate court stated that RFAs serve to put at rest triable issues, so they do not have to be tried. An award for failing to admit RFAs results when the propounding party provides the truth of facts that the responding party had denied. The propounding party may then seek an award of the costs and attorney fees incurred in proving those facts. The court must award those costs and fees unless the court determines the denying party had reasonable ground to believe they would prevail on the matter.
The defendant denied the RFAs on the grounds of his belief about the color of the light when he entered the intersection. The trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motion and ruled that the denial was proper because the defendant reasonably believed he would prevail based on his belief about the yellow light when he entered the intersection. The appellate court stated that there was substantial contrary evidence supporting the defendant’s liability, including the plaintiffs’ testimony about the red light, the police report, and the witness statement.
The court stated that the issue is not whether the defendant believed the light was yellow when he drove into the intersection, but whether he reasonably believed he would prevail on that issue at trial. Based on the substantial evidence that the defendant ran the red light, his belief was unreasonable. The issue, again, is that the defendant knew of the evidence that he ran the red light. Here, there was no reasonable basis to deny the requests. Furthermore, since the evidence of liability did not change from the accident to the conclusion of trial, the court dismissed the defendant’s argument that he did not have to make a “premature admission” of liability.
The appeals court held the trial court erred in denying the plaintiffs their reasonable costs and attorney fees in proving liability. The court did state that it was reasonable, based on an expert opinion, for the defendants to deny the necessity of future surgeries as well as lost wages.
In conclusion, the court remanded the case for the trial court to determine the amount that the plaintiffs are entitled to receive for proof of liability.
At Sharifi Firm, we represent victims of car accidents throughout Southern California. Our office offers a free consultation and can be reached at 866-422-7222.
More Blog Posts:
California Court of Appeals Reverses Dismissal of Vehicle Accident Case as Forum Issue Remains Unsettled, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 11, 2015
California Court of Appeals Holds Evidence of Pretrial Settlement Between Plaintiff and One of Two Defendants Should Have Been Admitted at Trial, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 27, 2015