In a recent case, the California Court of Appeal addressed a fee dispute resting on an underlying personal injury lawsuit.
Plaintiff Hyo Hyun was playing an arcade game, The King of Hammer, when he was struck by a piece attached to the game. The game involved using a hammer to hit a cylinder, achieving the highest score. After using the hammer to hit the cylinder, the hammer “coiled back” and hit him in the nose. There were no staff members from Round One Entertainment, the operator of the entertainment center, providing assistance or instructions regarding the game.
Mr. Hyun was taken to a hospital and suffered a fractured nose and other injuries. He underwent surgery and alleged he still needed plastic reconstructive surgery, a “septoplasty.” Mr. Hyun testified that he experienced constant nose pain and missed a month of work.
Mr. Hyun brought a lawsuit against Andamiro USA Corporation and Round One, alleging that Andamiro designed, manufactured, or tested the King of Hammer and placed it into the stream of commerce. He claimed that at the time the game left Andamiro’s hands, it was defective and unsafe. He sued Andamiro for strict products liability for a manufacturing defect, strict products liability for a failure to warn, and a breach of an implied warranty. Mr. Hyun brought a strict products liability claim against Round One for a failure to warn, and a negligence claim based on premises liability.
Round One then filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there had not been evidence of their notice of a dangerous condition on their arcade property, nor had they contributed to Mr. Hyun’s injuries. They also argued that they had not assembled, designed, or manufactured the King of Hammer game. Mr. Hyun contended that Round One had controlled the premises and had notice of the dangers posed by the game.
The trial court granted Round One’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that there was no evidence they failed to maintain the game, or that this would have prevented injuries. The lower court also found no evidence the entertainment center was causally connected to any product defect. Mr. Hyun did not appeal after the court entered judgment in favor of Round One.
Round One filed a motion for attorneys’ fees, under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.6. This section provides that a successful party in an implied indemnity claim may recover attorneys’ fees if they can show they brought or defended an action through the indemnitor’s tort, the indemnitor was on notice of the action but did not defend or bring the action, and the indemnitee was not at fault, or the judgment was in its favor. Round One argued they had to defend Mr. Hyun’s action because of Andamiro’s tort. They wanted to recover the $27, 744.51 in attorney’s fees incurred in their defense of Mr. Hyun’s claims.
The trial court found that the underlying tort was the manufacturing defect, which was the basis of the premises liability claim. Also, the court noted that Andamiro argued they had not manufactured the game, but they offered no evidence in support of this argument. Round One was an indemnitee. This meant that through Andamiro’s tort, they had been required to defend Mr. Hyun’s complaint.
Andamiro settled with Mr. Hyun, and the court found in favor of Round One against Andamiro. Round One received $27,744.51 in attorneys’ fees. Andamiro appealed, challenging the award of attorneys’ fees under section 1021.6.
The appellate court examined the language of section 1021.6 and stated that it authorizes attorneys’ fees to innocent indemnitees. They dismissed Andamiro’s claim that Round One had not prevailed on a claim for implied indemnity. Here, Andamiro had stipulated to a judgment in favor of Round One, and Round One therefore prevailed on its cause of action against Andamiro for implied indemnity. The court stated that Round One met all the requirements of section 1021.6.
In this case, it did not matter that Mr. Hyun sued Round One for negligence and strict products liability. The fact that Round One had to defend itself in a claim alleging its own negligence did not preclude it from recovering fees under section 1021.6.
In conclusion, the court found that Round One protected itself from a third-party claim and then sought recovery for the attorneys’ fees it incurred in doing so. The court found they were entitled to recover costs on appeal.
At Sharifi Firm, our premises liability attorneys are experienced in recognizing the issues central to negligence claims. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries resulting from an accident, the attorneys at Sharifi Firm can help you seek compensation for your injuries. Contact us at 1-866-422-7222 for a free consultation.
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