California Court Upholds Judgment in Favor of Regents of California Because Trial Court did not Improperly Instruct Jury Concerning the Kind of Injury That Plaintiff Suffered

In an unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal recently held in favor of the Regents of the University of California in an underlying personal injury lawsuit brought by a student who was seriously injured while riding his bike across campus. At issue in this appeal was whether the trial court had properly responded to a jury question concerning a definition central to the legal claim in this case. The appellate court rejected this claim of instructional error proposed by the student, stating that the language used by the trial court clarified and was based on the actual language of Government Code Section 835, the basis of the plaintiff’s legal claim.

Geoffrey Chen, a student at University of California, Irvine (“UCI”), was biking across campus when he rode across a grassy slope next to a bicycle pathway. He had used the shortcut before, without issue, and seen others using it as well.

On that particular day, Mr. Chen’s bicycle rode over a retaining wall that had been obscured by vegetation. After being thrown from his bicycle, Mr. Chen landed on his head on a drain cover that sat at a catch basin below the retaining wall.  Due to the fall, Mr. Chen suffered an injury to his spinal cord and remains paralyzed from the chest down.

Mr. Chen brought a lawsuit against the Regents, alleging a dangerous condition of public property. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the Regents. Judgment was entered. Mr. Chen moved for a new trial, and that motion was denied.

On appeal, Mr. Chen claimed that the trial court committed an error when it responded to the jury’s question about one of the jury instructions and the related special verdict form.  The jury instruction tracked a version of CACI No. 1100, using Government Code Section 835 as its source. The special verdict form asked, “Did the dangerous condition create a reasonably foreseeable risk that this kind of incident would occur?”

The jury asked to further define “this kind of incident,” since they stated they could not agree on the meaning.  After deliberations, the court instructed the jury that “this kind of incident” is defined by the dangerous condition that created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that had been incurred. In other words, the court used the language “kind of injury” that is in Government Code Section 835 to answer the jury’s question.

Next, the appellate court stated it had not been an error for the trial court to use the statute’s language to instruct the jury.  The rule, according to the appellate court, is that a jury may be instructed with the actual language of a statute. Since the statutory language was clear, instructing the jury with the actual language in this case would not lead to absurd results.

The court also noted that since the trial took place, CACI No. 1100 has been amended. Now, it reflects the jury instructions in this case.  The phrase “kind of injury” is preferred to “kind of incident.”

Finally, the court rejected Mr. Chen’s argument that his instructional language would have corrected the alleged incompleteness.  The appeals court stated that when a court provides an instruction that is legally correct, but a party complains it is unclear or general, that party must ask that the additional instruction be given to have the error reviewed. By failing to request different instructions, the court stated the plaintiff cannot then contend on appeal that the trial court should have given different instructions.  The court stated that the instruction proposed by Mr. Chen would not have made more clear the language from Government Code Section 835 but would have potentially misstated the law.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the Regents.

At Sharifi Firm, we help bicycle accident victims throughout Southern California pursue compensation for their injuries. We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 1-866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds City Not Liable for Injuries to Girl Hurt on Swingset Because Structure Met Safety Guidelines, and City Had no Notice of Previous Incidents,Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 4, 2016

California Court of Appeal Affirms Judgment in Favor of County of Los Angeles Following Motorcycle Collision in Angeles National Forest, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 6, 2016

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