California Court Holds Jury Could Reasonably Conclude Plaintiff’s Allegation of Causation in Tree Trimming Accident was Speculative and Evidence Supported Their Verdict in Favor of Defendant

In a personal injury claim following an accident while trimming trees, the plaintiff argued that the defendant tree trimming company’s negligence caused his injuries.  After the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, the California Court of Appeal reviewed whether substantial evidence supported their finding.  In their analysis, the court stated that whether a breached duty of care caused harm is within the jury’s domain to determine. Therefore, when a party to a lawsuit challenges the sufficiency of evidence, it is a “daunting burden.” In this case, the court upheld the jury’s determination that the defendant’s conduct had not substantially caused the accident.

According to the appellate court, there was a “lengthy chain of reasoning” set forth by the plaintiff that attacked the verdict. The facts indicated that the plaintiff and his brother were trimming trees under a power line. The plaintiff was using a metal rod to measure the evenness of the trees when he made contact with a power line and suffered injuries after falling to the ground from his ladder. He brought a lawsuit against a tree trimming company, among others, since the company had the duty of ensuring a clearance around the power lines. While the tree trimming company had inspected the trees months before the accident, they had decided the trees did not need trimming.

The jury had found in favor of the plaintiff on the issue of the defendant’s negligence, but it decided that their negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.  The plaintiff then filed a motion for a partial judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and for a new trial. He contended the evidence required a judgment in his favor, and the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor that caused his harm.  The trial court denied the partial JNOV.

The plaintiff argued that had the defendant trimmed the trees, the plaintiff would not have needed to trim them and would not have attempted to do so and suffered injuries.  The lower court found that it was too speculative to hold the jury was required to find that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court stated that a plaintiff bears the burden of proving causation in his negligence claim. Since the plaintiff challenged the jury’s verdict and held the burden of proof at trial, the reviewing court asked whether the evidence required a verdict in his favor, as a matter of law.  But, the court stated, the defendant did not have to disprove the causation chain. Instead, the jury had the prerogative to conclude any one or more links were speculative.

Here, the jury could have found that the uneven nature of the trees undermined the plaintiff’s ability to demonstrate causation.  In fact, the court stated that after the defendant had trimmed the trees, the plaintiff’s effort to prune them broke the chain of causation.  Additionally, the court stated that the jury could have determined it was not likely the defendant would cut more of the cypress trees than they were required to do.  In fact, the jury, according to the court, could have found that the chain of events held too many twists and turns to hold the defendant responsible.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendant.

At Sharifi Firm, individuals hurt by the careless or reckless conduct of others receive legal representation and advice from skilled injury attorneys. Throughout Southern California, we negotiate, litigate, and pursue compensation on behalf of accident victims. We offer a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222 or using our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Appeals Court Affirms Jury Verdict Entitling Defendant to Summary Judgment in Case Centered on “Battle of Experts” Following Motor Vehicle Collision, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, May 5, 2017

California Court Upholds Jury Award to Plaintiff Injured in Motorcycle Collision, Determines Plaintiff’s Statement to His Insurer was Privileged, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2017

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