In an unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal analyzed the importance of carefully pleading causes of action. In this case, the beneficiaries of life insurance policies sued the insurance company and its agent. They claimed that it was negligence and a breach of contract to fail to provide policies that covered aviation activities. The insured had died in an aviation collision and had sought to provide benefits to his wife and business. But the court here upheld the summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the plaintiffs could not allege new facts and new legal theories in opposing a motion for summary judgment. Since they had not pled negligence per se, they could not overcome summary judgment by relying on this doctrine.
The decedent in this case had applied to an insurance company for two life insurance policies, specifically to cover the risk posed by his hobby of flying aircraft. After suffering a fatality in an aviation accident, his surviving spouse and business (both intended beneficiaries of the policies) brought a lawsuit against the insurance agent and the insurer. Among other allegations, they claimed the agent and insurer had been negligent in failing to provide the plaintiff (the surviving spouse) with policies for aviation risk, as her husband had specifically requested.
The defendants moved for summary judgment. On appeal, the issue was whether the court erred in granting summary judgment on the negligence claims, particularly in light of the plaintiffs’ contention that negligence per se applied, and there remained triable issues.
The appellate court stated that negligence per se consists of four elements: (1) a violation of a statute or regulation, (2) that caused the plaintiff’s injury, (3) of a kind that the statute was designed to prevent, and (4) the plaintiff was a member of the class that the statute intended to protect.
In this case, the plaintiffs conceded that they had not pled the elements of negligence per se in their Third Amended Complaint. Instead, the complaint alleged the defendants had been negligent in failing to provide the decedent with life insurance policies that included aviation coverage. Since they had not pled facts supporting the doctrine of negligence per se, they could not rely on it to defeat summary judgment.
The appellate court rejected the plaintiffs’ allegation that the substance of their negligence per se claim had been before the trial court on summary judgment and was currently before the appellate court. But the court here stated that the gravamen of the negligence claims set forth by the plaintiff was that the defendants had failed to procure life insurance policies that covered aviation activities, and this was negligent. The court stated it was not a labeling issue; it was an issue of failing to allege facts supporting a claim of negligence per se.
In short, the court stated that the plaintiffs’ challenge on appeal of the grant of summary judgment rested on the negligence per se theory. Since it had not been pled in the Third Amended Complaint, and there was no basis for reversing the superior court orders, the trial court judgments were affirmed.
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