Articles Posted in Personal Injury Legal Theories

In a recent opinion, a California court refused to hold a ridesharing company liable for an accident caused by one of its drivers. The driver was using a car made available to him through the ridesharing company when he caused a California car accident resulting in injuries to two other motorists. The injured motorists filed a lawsuit against the ridesharing company, as well as the driver, arguing that the ridesharing company should be held liable for the driver’s actions while using a car provided through the driver’s employment. The ridesharing company denied legal responsibility, arguing that the driver was engaged in purely personal activity at the time of the accident.

The main issue, in this case, was whether the driver was acting within the scope of their employment when the accident occurred. An employer may be held liable for injuries wrongfully caused by an employee where the injured party filing the lawsuit proves that the person who caused the injury was acting “within the scope” of their employment. Conversely, an employer is not liable where the employee’s activity was “purely personal.

California uses two tests to determine whether an employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of an accident. The first is the Purton test, which considers whether the employee’s activity was undertaken with the employer’s permission, and whether it was of some benefit to the employer or typical within the context of employment. The second test is the Halliburton test, which considers whether the activity was required or incident to the employee’s duties, or whether the employee’s misconduct was reasonably foreseeable by the employer.

Recently, a young woman who was struck and suffered serious injuries in a crosswalk filed an appeal in a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles (the City). According to the court’s opinion, the high school sophomore was hit by a car in a crosswalk while she was walking to school. The young woman filed a personal injury lawsuit against the City, arguing that the intersection was a dangerous condition. She contended that the City was in the process of installing a traffic signal at the scene of the accident, but it was untimely and incomplete when the accident occurred.

During discovery, the plaintiff obtained information about a previous fatal pedestrian accident at the same intersection. Discovery included documents related to the City’s investigation of the earlier incident, including their application for federal funds through the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). In response, the defendant objected, arguing that the intersection did not constitute a dangerous condition and moved to preclude the admission of the HSIP application documents under title 23 of the U.S. Code section 409 (section 409). On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the privilege under section 409 did not apply to the HSIP application, and even if it did, the defendant waived their privilege.

Congress enacted the Hazard Elimination Program to encourage the federal government and states to work in concert to improve road conditions and safety. States that apply for funds through this program must engage in a thorough evaluation of its roads and present the entity with its findings. In response to confidentiality issues, Congress enacted section 409, which precludes admission of these documents into evidence, for any action for damages. In this case, the plaintiff conceded that the documents she presented were a part of the HSIP application, but claimed that the privilege does not apply because it was not a “report, survey, schedule, list or data,” within the meaning of section 409. The court found that the application was exactly the type of document section 409 was designed to protect, and the court’s search for truth in a civil matter does not outweigh Congress’ intent to protect those that are applying for federal funds.

Recently, a California appeals court issued an opinion addressing a plaintiff’s evidentiary burden in a premises liability lawsuit. The appeal stems from a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of a 16-year-old girl who died after a freight train hit her. The teenage girl routinely crossed a railroad to reach her bus stop. On the day of the accident, the railroad crossing was flashing warning lights and bells to indicate an oncoming train. However, the girl continued on the path with her head down, and as she stepped onto the tracks, the freight train struck her. The girl died on impact.

The girl’s family filed a premises liability and negligence lawsuit against the freight train company, alleging that the freight train company owned the crossing, knew it posed a danger, and failed to ensure appropriate safety measures, such as pedestrian barriers. The freight train company moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not possess a duty to make the premises safe because they did not own, possess, or control the railroad tracks or the land surrounding the area. Further, they claimed that they did not negligently operate the freight train.

In support of their motion for summary judgment, the train company provided evidence of a shared-use agreement between the train company and the entity that owned the land. The agreement stated that the freight train company only possessed the right to use the tracks and warning systems, but did not own or operate the railroad or surrounding property.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a case against a California nursing home. The case required the court to determine if an arbitration agreement, signed by the resident’s adult daughter, was valid and enforceable. Ultimately, the court affirmed the lower court’s finding that there was substantial evidence suggesting that the resident’s daughter did not have the authority to sign the form and agree to submit any subsequent claims to arbitration. Thus, the court rejected the facility’s request to force the case into arbitration.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s mother was a resident at the defendant nursing home. The plaintiff’s mother had a history of diabetes, dementia, end-stage renal disease, generalized muscle weakness, and other debilitating conditions. At some point during her stay, the plaintiff’s mother required hospitalization. Upon her mother being re-admitted to the facility after being discharged from the hospital, the plaintiff signed a two-page document containing an agreement to arbitrate any claims arising out of the facility’s care of her mother. The plaintiff signed on her mother’s behalf. The plaintiff’s mother did not sign the document.

Later, the plaintiff’s mother passed away from a worsening medical condition. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the facility, and the facility moved to compel arbitration, based on the agreement signed by the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued that the agreement was invalid because, at the time that she signed it, she did not have the legal ability to sign away her mother’s right to access the court system.

A state appellate court recently considered when an “excuse” jury instruction is appropriate in a California car accident case. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was driving on the highway when a mattress suddenly flew at her vehicle, causing her to swerve and hit the barrier. Eye-witnesses stated that they saw the mattress come from the defendant’s truck, and the plaintiff sued. California law requires that vehicles be loaded so that the materials on them stay put. The plaintiff alleged negligence per se, which is a finding of negligence based on a violation of the law.

The trial court gave a jury instruction stating that a violation of the law is excused if it is found that the defendant was using reasonable care but was still unable to obey the law. The jury found that the defendant was not negligent. However, at trial, the defendant driver stated that there was no mattress in his truck on the day in question. The jury, in reaching its decision, did not state whether it was based on a finding that the defendant’s truck was not the source of the mattress or whether the defendant had an excuse, based on the instruction in question. The plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court agreed with the plaintiff that the excuse instruction was improper and remanded the case back to the trial court. The court explained that the situation at hand did not present the special circumstances necessary to warrant an excuse instruction. There was no evidence that the defendant used reasonable care to ensure there was no mattress in the back of his truck because he relied on his coworker’s word that the truck was empty, even though it would have been relatively easy for him to check himself. Nor was there evidence that the defendant was unable to comply with the law in question, requiring items in trucks to be secured. Because there were no special circumstances, the court held that the excuse instruction was improperly given. Additionally, the court’s opinion explained that the instruction was improperly worded in that it failed to make clear that the burden to establish the excuse is on the defendant, rather than the plaintiff.

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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