Articles Posted in Government Liability

In a recent written opinion, a California appellate court discussed when evidence from an expert witness who is not on a party’s expert-witness list can be considered in a personal injury claim. According to the court’s opinion, in 2013 the plaintiff was an incarcerated in a county jail and was taken to and from court on a county bus. The plaintiff testified at trial that the bus hit a beam while parking, causing the inmate to whom the plaintiff was chained to sway, ultimately pulling the plaintiff off of his seat and onto the floor of the bus. A videotaped interview after the accident showed the plaintiff saying clearly that he was not injured in this accident, but the plaintiff asserts that shortly after the interview he began to feel pain. According to the plaintiff, this injury required he see both a doctor and a chiropractor regularly, amassing significant medical bills.

At trial, the plaintiff’s doctor testified that he believed the plaintiff’s injuries stemmed from the 2013 bus accident, and that the plaintiff required future surgery, estimated at around $90,000. The defendant county called another doctor as an expert witness to testify, but this doctor was not on their list of expert witnesses submitted to the court. Under California law, he was allowed to testify, but only in order to “impeach” the evidence of the plaintiff’s doctor. Impeachment testimony is permissible if it focuses on negating a specific fact used by another party’s witness to draw their conclusion. However, impeachment testimony cannot be simply used as pretext for offering a contrary opinion. The defendant’s added witness testified, stating that the plaintiff’s doctor had reached the wrong conclusion and misunderstood or misapplied medical science. At the end of trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff but awarding him far less damages than he sought, seeming to rely on the defendant’s expert witness’s testimony undercutting the plaintiff’s doctor.

The plaintiff appealed the verdict, in part arguing that the defendant’s expert witness’s testimony was beyond the scope of permissible impeachment and should not have been considered. The appellate court agreed, finding that the defendant’s witness, when discussing the plaintiff’s doctor testimony, did not aim to negate or deny a specific fact used by the doctor. Instead, according to the court, the defendant’s doctor offered his own, contrary opinion, which went beyond the scope of permissible impeachment. As such, the jury should not have been allowed to consider the testimony, and the court remanded the case for a new trial.

In a recent state appellate opinion, a California appellate court dismissed a plaintiff’s claim that arose after the plaintiff was injured at a carnival which was held on school grounds. The issue before the court was whether the school district could be held liable based on the placement and operation of an inflatable slide, which the plaintiff claimed was a hazardous condition.

According to the court’s opinion, a school booster group held the carnival at the school as a fundraising event. The group organized the event, and chose the company that provided the inflatable slide, and supervised its set-up and use. During the carnival, the plaintiff’s three-year-old son climbed up the slide, but was scared to go down, so the plaintiff ascended the slide in order to retrieve his son. As the plaintiff was on the slide, it suddenly deflated and tipped over. The plaintiff sued the school district for his injuries, alleging that the district was at fault because the slide was not tethered to the ground and because it was placed in a dangerous location.

Under Section 38134 of California’s Education Code, a public school is designated as a “civic center,” which means that it must allow nonprofit organizations to use school grounds for youth and school activities. Section 38134 specifically divides liability between school districts and the entities that use school grounds. The statute provides that a school district is liable for injuries that result from the school district’s negligence “in the ownership and maintenance of the school facilities or grounds.” In contrast, an entity that uses school facilities or grounds is liable for injuries that result from the entity’s negligence “during the use of the school facilities or grounds.” In addition, an entity using school grounds is responsible for obtaining insurance to protect against the risk of liability.

In a recent opinion, a federal appeals court was tasked with deciding whether a plaintiff whose Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) claim was not properly filed as a minor could file his claim beyond the statute of limitations. The case is a precedential decision for cases in the court’s jurisdiction, including California car accident cases.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s father died in a car crash on an Arizona highway in 2005. The plaintiff’s mother filed a claim with the federal agency over two years later, and then filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. She claimed deficiencies in the highway barrier involved in the father’s crash. The plaintiff was nine years old when his father died and sixteen when the suit was filed.

Filing a Claim Under the Federal Tort Claims Act

The Federal Tort Claims Act allows people to sue the United States government and its agencies for certain torts committed by federal employees while acting within the scope of their official duties. In an FTCA claim, a claimant must show that: (1) injury or property damages caused by a federal employee; (2) the employee was acting within the scope of his official duties; (3) the employee acted negligently or wrongfully; and (4) the act proximately caused the damages.

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A California appellate court recently considered a case in which a plaintiff claimed that the city was at fault for failing to repaint a city crosswalk. The plaintiff sued the city of Salinas, California after she was hit by a car while walking across the street. The plaintiff was in the crosswalk at the time she was hit, which had not been repainted in sixteen years and was almost completely faded. The plaintiff claimed that the condition of the crosswalk amounted to a dangerous condition.

Under a city ordinance, the city was required to maintain crosswalks at intersections with the appropriate markings. Based on the ordinance, the plaintiff asked that the jury be read instructions on the concept of negligence per se.

Negligence Per Se

Negligence per se refers to a finding of negligence based on a violation of the law. If negligence per se applies, the defendant is presumed to have breached the duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff. For example, there might be a finding of negligence per se in a California drunk driving accident.

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In a recent case before a California appeals court, the court considered whether a public college hosting a volleyball tournament could be held liable in a California premises liability claim for an injury suffered by a visiting athlete.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff attended Los Angeles Pierce College, a public community college, and traveled to another public college, Grossmont College, for a volleyball tournament, as a member of the college’s volleyball team. The plaintiff was allegedly injured during a volleyball game when she dove into the sand and her knee hit a rock in the sand.

The plaintiff filed a complaint against Grossmont College, alleging negligence, gross negligence, and dangerous condition of public property. The plaintiff claimed she was injured because of a dangerous condition at the college’s beach volleyball facility. The college argued that it was protected by immunity because the plaintiff’s case fell under California’s field trips and excursions immunity.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case discussing the potential liability of Caltrans in a design defect lawsuit brought by motorists injured in an accident that they claim was caused in part by Caltrans’ decision not to include rumble strips along the shoulder of the highway. The case required the court to determine if the Caltrans official responsible for approving the design exercised discretion when determining not to include the rumble strips.

Official Immunity

When someone is injured in a car accident, and they believe the accident to have been caused by a dangerous condition of the roadway, they may pursue a claim against the government. The government, however, is afforded immunity from many of these cases. One type of immunity is design immunity.

Design immunity prevents a government from being held liable for the discretionary decisions made by government officials when carrying out their duties. In order for this immunity to attach, the government agency or official must be able to establish that their actions involved the exercise of discretion. If the government’s actions were ministerial, immunity will not attach.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion in a California premises liability lawsuit discussing the state’s trail immunity statute and how it can preclude an accident victim’s recovery. The court ultimately determined that the plaintiff’s case fell within the statute’s grant of immunity and dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a young man who was “ghost hunting” in a park after hours. The boys had snuck into the park at around 3:00 a.m. and were making their way down a steep incline to the trail below.

As the plaintiff was descending the hill, he began to slip. The plaintiff then began to roll head-over-heels down the steep embankment. When he reached the trail, he was traveling with such force that he continued across the trail and over the edge of a 10-foot retaining wall. The plaintiff eventually struck a tree and came to a stop. He suffered debilitating injuries as a result and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city that owned and maintained the park.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion in a California car accident case involving the alleged negligence of a police officer. The case required the court to discuss the Government Claims Act and whether the plaintiffs’ non-compliance with the Act should prevent the plaintiffs from proceeding with their case against the government defendants. Ultimately, since the court determined that the government officials involved in the case may have made misleading statements to the plaintiffs and their attorney, the court permitted the plaintiffs’ case to proceed in order for a jury to determine whether the plaintiffs should be excused from compliance with the Act.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were seriously injured when a car driven by a police officer with the L.A. School Police Department (LASPD) ran a red light and crashed into their vehicle. After the accident, but before the plaintiffs were taken to the hospital in an ambulance, the plaintiffs were provided a business card indicating that the responsible party was LASPD. The card listed the LASPD address and website.

Four days after the accident, the plaintiffs’ attorney filed a claim for damages against LASPD. The attorney obtained the complaint form from the LASPD website. The plaintiffs later filed a personal injury case against LASPD. Once the case was filed, certain information was passed, including the name of the officer responsible for the accident as well as the name of the government organization that owned the vehicle, the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD). The plaintiffs then amended their complaint to add LAUSD.

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