Articles Posted in Personal Injury Legal Theories

California accident victims can pursue a claim for compensation against anyone they believe to be responsible for their injuries. To successfully bring such a claim, a plaintiff must be able to establish that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of their injury. This is referred to as the element of causation.

To establish causation, a plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than not that the plaintiff’s injury was a result of the defendant’s conduct. However, causation cannot be based solely on speculation. The mere possibility that the defendant’s conduct was the cause is insufficient to prove causation; a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty was a proximate or legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Generally, the jury must decide if the plaintiff has proved causation. However, if the issue of causation involves a legal determination, the court can decide whether causation is sufficient in a motion for summary judgment.

California injury cases can be complicated and may involve multiple parties. A defendant’s negligent conduct does not need to be the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injury in order for a jury to find them liable for the injury. California law follows the “substantial factor” test in determining cause-in-fact. That means to meet the causation element, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury. If a defendant’s conduct took place at the same time as other acts, the defendant’s conduct may be a “substantial factor” if the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct. If the simultaneous negligence of two parties contributes to the plaintiff’s injury, each person’s acts will be considered the proximate cause, and the plaintiff may recover full compensation from either person, or both.

In April of 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California premises liability case discussing the application of the state’s “firefighter’s rule.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the case did not implicate the firefighter’s rule.

The firefighter’s rule is an exception to the general rule that landowners have a duty to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. Originally, the firefighter’s rule applied to firefighters and emergency personnel who put themselves at risk while engaging in the necessary functions of the job. Essentially, the firefighter’s rule prohibits a firefighter from pursuing a claim against a landowner because the firefighter is said to have assumed the risk of injury by agreeing to work in that capacity.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a site manager at a home in Beverly Hills. The home was architecturally unique in that there was a cantilevered concrete platform that extended from a steep hill, designed to look as though it was floating. The owner of the property, the defendant, rented the home for special events.

Earlier last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case discussing whether an employer could be held vicariously liable for the allegedly negligent acts of an employee. The court ultimately concluded that vicarious liability was appropriate, and allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed to trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was injured after being involved in a car accident. Evidently, the plaintiff was riding as a passenger in the pick-up truck that was being driven by his father. The truck was provided to the plaintiff’s father as a company car.

The plaintiff’s father was a maintenance worker for the defendant corporation, which operated several farms in the area. The plaintiff’s father reportedly worked six days a week, but was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to attend to any maintenance issues that arose at any of the defendant’s properties. The plaintiff’s father kept a toolbox in the pick-up truck, and was told by the defendant that he was expected to respond to any maintenance issue immediately. Thus, the employer allowed the plaintiff to use the pick-up truck for personal use.

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In a recent case before a California appeals court, the plaintiff claimed that a California ski resort was liable for the serious injuries she sustained in a tragic snowboarding accident at the resort. According to the court’s opinion, the woman collided with a snowcat that was pulling a snow-grooming tiller, and she got caught in the tiller. She suffered severe injuries, including several skull fractures and her left leg was later amputated as a result of the collision.

The plaintiff and her husband sued the ski resort, alleging gross negligence and loss of consortium. The trial court granted the ski resort’s motion for summary judgment finding that the woman assumed the risk of her injury, and the plaintiffs appealed.

The Doctrine of Assumption of the Risk

The court explained that the doctrine of assumption of the risk is often referred to as a defense, but it actually negates the duty element, which is an essential element of a negligence claim. In cases involving the express assumption of risk, the individual expressly agrees to assume the risk involved, for example by signing a written release. A release that expressly releases the defendant can waive the defendant’s liability for negligence. However, a waiver cannot cover a defendant’s gross negligence. Gross negligence is considered an aggravated type of negligence. It typically amounts to an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care others in the defendant’s shoes would take in a given situation.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California personal injury case involving a plaintiff who allegedly sustained a serious injury after taking a yoga class from the defendant instructor. Ultimately, the court concluded that corrections the yoga instructor made to the plaintiff’s poses during the class “were within the standard of care for yoga instructor teaching a restorative yoga class.” Thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

The Facts

The plaintiff arranged to take a yoga class from the defendant yoga instructor. During the class, the defendant instructor made several corrections to the plaintiff’s poses, including pushing down on her lower back and twisting her neck. The plaintiff later filed a personal injury lawsuit against the instructor and the studio where the class was taught.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment and presented two witnesses who testified that it is common and expected for a yoga instructor to adjust students’ poses throughout the class. The plaintiff – who did not call any expert witnesses – objected to the defendants’ experts as “inherently unbelievable.”

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California insurance companies may try to avoid defending personal injury claims against an insured by arguing that the conduct does not fall under the insured’s policy. This can greatly reduce a plaintiff’s chance of recovering for their injuries, because many defendants do not have adequate resources to fairly compensate plaintiffs for their injuries.

The California Supreme Court recently decided a case in which an insurance company argued that it was not required to defend a negligent hiring claim against an insured arising from an alleged sexual assault.

The Facts of the Case

A woman alleged that a construction company negligently hired, retained, and supervised an employee that she claimed had sexually abused her. She alleged that one of the construction company’s employees sexually abused her when she was a 13-year-old student while the employee was working on a construction project at her school. The construction company’s insurer argued that it was not required to defend the construction company in that suit. The insurer’s commercial general liability policy provided coverage for bodily injury that was caused by an “occurrence,” which the policy defined as an “accident.” The insurer reasoned that because in this case the employee intentionally injured the woman, the incident was not an accident, and thus was not covered under the policy.

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In a recent California personal injury case, the plaintiff brought a premises liability claim against a restaurant after she was bitten by a spider while eating lunch there. The plaintiff had been eating lunch with a friend on a patio when a spider bit her on her back. She was hospitalized for about six days and suffered from numbness and weakness in her extremities after spider venom reached her spinal fluid. She suffered permanent damage and could not fully use her left hand and leg.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging general negligence and premises liability. She claimed that the restaurant knew or should have known that spiders were prevalent in the patio area and that they posed a risk to customers. She alleged that the restaurant was negligent in failing to warn of the danger of the spiders and in failing to reasonably prevent spiders from coming into contact with customers. The plaintiff claimed that prior to her injury, there were thirteen reports of spider sightings at the restaurant, and three were identified as black widows.

The restaurant contended that it did not have an absolute duty to ensure the safety of its customers, and that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty to protect her from an alleged black widow spider bite. It claimed that it followed pest control protocols that exceeded industry standards, that it did not know there were any black widow spiders on the dining patio, and that the costs of a duty to protect customers outweighed the benefits.

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Motorists have a responsibility to drive carefully, and also to respond to dangerous situations in a reasonable manner. In a recent California personal injury case, the court explained what the “sudden emergency doctrine” is and how it may be applied to excuse a motorist’s reaction to a sudden, unexpected event.

In that case, a man was injured when his car was rear-ended by the defendant’s tractor-trailer. The tractor-trailer had been in the far-right lane when three cars were using a ramp to enter the freeway in front of the tractor-trailer. A car in front of the plaintiff’s car reported that another black car was tailgating her and driving recklessly and passed her on the ramp while making an obscene gesture. The black car then suddenly braked, the cars behind it to slam on the brakes. The tractor-trailer saw the cars stop but could not stop or get around them before hitting the plaintiff’s car.

The plaintiff sued the tractor-trailer driver and his employer for negligence. The trial court found the defendants were not liable due to the sudden emergency doctrine, and the plaintiff appealed.

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Self-driving, or semi-autonomous, cars are becoming a reality in some states. Although proponents tout the technology as safe, recent incidents have raised concerns and brought up new questions concerning liability in the event of a California car accident. One question that often arises is who is at fault in a semi-autonomous car crash if, for example, the car fails to stop? Is it the driver who failed to stop or the designer or manufacturer whose system failed to stop? These cases present complicated issues, as crashes involving self-driving cars continue to occur in California and nationwide.

Investigation Finds Tesla Model X Sped Up Before California Crash

An investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found a Tesla Model X sped up just before it crashed earlier this year in Mountain View, California, according to a news report. The semi-autonomous car crashed into a barrier on U.S. Highway 101 back in March, killing the 38-year-old driver.

The report raises questions about the cars’ ability to operate safety, as well as the driver’s role in the crash. According to the report, the car sped up from 62 miles per hour to 70.8 miles per hour in the last three seconds before the crash. The driver was using the autopilot system for almost 19 minutes before the crash. His hands were only on the steering wheel for 34 seconds of the last sixty seconds before the crash, and he had programmed the car to drive at 75 miles per hour. However, according to the NTSB, the car’s system did not recognize his hands on the steering wheel for six seconds before the crash. The NTSB report was a preliminary report and did not come to a conclusion about what caused the crash.

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While some California motorcycle accidents present a situation in which one party is clearly the victim and another clearly at fault, it is common for the parties involved to each be partially at fault. In California, courts apply the “pure comparative fault” method when determining which parties are entitled to recover compensation for their injuries.

Under a pure comparative fault analysis, an accident victim can recover compensation for their injuries even if they are at fault. Additionally, a defendant can only be liable to an accident victim for their own percentage of fault. If the jury determines that the plaintiff was partially at fault, the judge will reduce the plaintiff’s recovery amount by their own percentage of fault.

For example, Driver A and Driver B might be involved in an accident, with Driver A being 40% at fault and Driver B being 60% at fault. If Driver A files a California car accident lawsuit against Driver B, and the damages are determined to be $500,000, Driver A will be awarded $300,000, or $500,000 reduced by 40%.

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