California Court Upholds Summary Judgment in Favor of Elevator Maintenance Company After Plaintiff Suffered Injuries in Falling Elevator

The California Court of Appeal recently addressed an appeal brought by a plaintiff who alleged his injuries were caused by a defective elevator.   Southern California injury lawyers understand that in cases like this, there may be legal claims against more than one defendant.  In this case, the plaintiff initially brought legal claims against multiple parties, including the manufacturer and the maintenance company for the elevator.

After stepping into an elevator at the CalTrans building in Los Angeles, the plaintiff in this personal injury case pressed the button for the first floor. According to the plaintiff, the elevator quickly dropped and then stopped between the first and second floors.  The plaintiff alleged he was thrown around and landed on his back in the elevator when it abruptly dropped.  The plaintiff claimed he suffered knee injuries due to the incident, and he brought legal claims against the elevator manufacturer and the maintenance company that services the elevator.

The plaintiff eventually dismissed his claims for product liability and negligence against the manufacturer, and the remaining defendant (the maintenance company) moved for summary judgment.  The trial court granted summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff had not met his burden of showing a material dispute of fact remained.

The defendant’s summary judgment motion was based on the fact that the defendant had not designed, manufactured, sold, installed, or warranted the elevator.  Additionally, the defendant asserted they were not negligent.  The plaintiff maintained that he would obtain evidence supporting his negligence claim, and regardless, he argued that the defendant had prevented his efforts to obtain evidence that would have supported his negligence claim.  The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s judgment that summary judgment should be granted regarding his negligence claim.

On appeal, the court held that the plaintiff’s expert’s declaration had been properly excluded from evidence.  The court stated the rule that expert testimony must have a foundation that states the expert’s qualifications, the valid methods used to reach the opinion, and the relevance of the underlying opinion. In this case, the expert’s declaration did not have a sufficient foundation or explanation that made clear why the defendant had been negligent.  While the expert stated his opinion, he had not specified the facts within the record that informed his conclusion. Additionally, the court stated, the expert had not stated the duty of care held by the defendant. This, according to the court, made the declaration conclusory.

In short, the court found that summary judgment for the defendant had been proper because the defendant showed that an element of the plaintiff’s cause of action could not be established based on the plaintiff’s failure to possess evidence.  In order to do so, defendants moving for summary judgment must show that plaintiffs do not possess needed evidence and that they cannot be expected to obtain the evidence.

In this case, the plaintiff responded to discovery with claims that he did not know the facts supporting his negligence claim.  The court stated this then raised an inference that the plaintiff would not be able to establish the breach-of-duty element of his negligence claim.  This satisfied the defendant’s initial summary judgment burden of production.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s allegation that his discovery responses were based on his failure to possess the evidence.  The court made clear that the plaintiff had a reasonable opportunity to obtain discovery before the trial court’s hearing on the summary judgment motion.  Also, the court stated, he could have amended his initial responses if he later discovered facts supporting his negligence claim.

Based on the plaintiff’s failure to meet his burden of production in responding to the defendants’ summary judgment motion, the appellate court upheld the judgment of the lower court.

In order to successfully secure compensation in a personal injury lawsuit alleging negligence, plaintiffs must present a strong argument that defendants breached their duty of care.  The dedicated personal injury lawyers at Sharifi Firm help clients seek the compensation they deserve. We have decades of experience representing individuals and families throughout Southern California.  To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a skilled attorney in our office, call 1-866-422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Appellate Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of Firefighters After Plaintiff Suffered Severe Injuries at Fire Base Camp, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 26, 2017

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

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