California Appellate Court Holds Plaintiffs in Slip and Fall Case Unreasonably Delayed in Amending Complaint to Add Proper Defendant

In the second appeal in a slip and fall lawsuit, the California Court of Appeal addressed whether the plaintiffs had unreasonably delayed in adding the sub-lessors of the property in which the alleged incident took place to the lawsuit. The issue was when the plaintiffs knew of facts that gave rise to a cause of action against the defendants, and whether the newly named defendants demonstrated prejudice by the late amendment.

Oscar Albillo and his wife, Blanca Albilla, brought a lawsuit against Ports O’Call Village after Oscar tripped and fell at the entrance to the Ports O’Call Restaurant Corporation (POC).  The Albillos’ complaint alleged negligence and loss of consortium. The case went to trial in 2014, and the court granted POC’s motion for a nonsuit on the ground that the accident took place on property sub-leased by POC to Sam and Sung Cho. The court found the Albillos did not prove POC, the landlord, had actual notice of the dangerous condition.

Before the trial court granted POC’s motion for nonsuit, the Albillos moved to amend their complaint to substitute the Chos as Doe defendants.  The Chos moved to strike the amendment, and the court granted the motion.  On appeal, the issue was whether the Albillos knew enough facts to give rise to a cause of action against the Chos, and whether the Chos presented sufficient evidence of prejudice by the belated amendment.

The appellate court stated the rule that a plaintiff that does not know the name of a defendant must state that fact in the complaint and amend the pleading accordingly once the true name is discovered.  This allows plaintiffs to file their complaints before the statute of limitations bars their claims.  The question was which facts the plaintiffs knew at the time they filed their original complaint.

The Albillos argued that they did not unreasonably delay in adding the Chos as defendants because they had not known the sublease to the Chos included the area in which Oscar was injured until they heard testimony during their case-in chief.

The appellate court stated that evidence showed the Albillos knew of the Chos’ identity and their relationship to their claims as possible sub-lessors of the accident site when the cross-complaint was filed in July 2012.  Also, earlier, in the March 2012 complaint, the Albillos had included allegations against sub-lessees and others controlling the property. The court stated that POC then filed a cross-complaint against the Chos, contending that the damages suffered by the Albillos were due to the Chos’ inaction or actions. The appellate court noted that the Albillos knew of the Chos and their connection to the accident property at that point. The facts giving rise to the cross-complaint against the Chos were the same as those in the Albillos’ negligence claim against POC. The court stated the rule that when the Albillos had the facts giving rise to a cause of action, their duty to amend the complaint began.

If the cross-complaint did not give rise to sufficient knowledge requiring the amendment, the court stated that the Albillos still possessed facts sufficient to require the amendment before trial. The court stated the Albillos did not deny they knew before trial that the Chos sub-leased the property. They claimed that the Chos’ sub-lease led them to believe that it did not cover the sidewalk. The court stated that whether the Albillos thought they had a legal claim was insignificant for the purpose of the law. It is the knowledge of facts that controls.

The court concluded that the trial court could easily have found that the Albillos unreasonably delayed amending to add the Chos as defendants, after learning the trial court would grant POC’s nonsuit.

Furthermore, the appellate court stated that the record contained evidence supporting the trial court’s finding of prejudice to the Chos, should the Albillos belatedly amend their complaint to add the Chos in the middle of the trial.  One example of prejudice is the inability of the Chos to inspect the site of the alleged dangerous condition until nearly four years after the accident.  The Chos also were unable to offer arguments regarding the intent and custom of the parties to the sub-lease, and the Albillos would be able to use the lesser standard of constructive notice rather than actual notice of the dangerous condition regarding their liability claim.

The court affirmed the lower court’s grant of the motion to strike the Albillos’ amendment adding the Chos.

If you have been injured in a slip and fall situation or any other accident, contact the skilled Southern California premises liability attorneys at Sharifi Firm.  We are available for a free consultation. Contact our office at 1-866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Holds Sham Pleading Did Not Apply in California Car Accident Case When Plaintiffs Were Unclear on Factual Basis for Liability, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 22, 2016

California Court Finds Plaintiff Pursuing Premises Liability Claim Did Not Prove Property Owner Knew of Dangerous Condition of Stairwell, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 11, 2016

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