Articles Posted in Personal Injury Legal Theories

semi-truckMotorists 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.

TeslaInvestigation 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.

Motorcycle RallyUnder 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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In California personal injury cases, there are two types of damages awards. The first type, compensatory damages, attempts to put the plaintiff in the position in which they were prior to being involved in the accident. The second type, punitive damages, is less common and focuses on deterring especially bad conduct by the defendant.

California Truck DriverWhen it comes to determining compensatory damages, a jury will review the evidence and make the final decision. However, a jury’s damages award must comply with the law. When it comes to determining the type and amount of damages that a personal injury victim is entitled to receive, courts often have to deal with the issue of insurance.

Insurance can complicate the damages calculation process because in many cases an injured plaintiff’s insurance company – or the insurance company of the at-fault driver – will reimburse the plaintiff for the costs of the medical expenses. Further complicating the matter is the fact that insurance companies have often negotiated discounted rates, such that the book value of the services provided is far greater than the amount actually paid out by the insurance company.

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In a recent California wrongful death case, an appellate court dismissed a claim against a hospital after it failed to follow a woman’s health care directive stating that she wanted all life-saving measures to be taken. The 70-year-old woman was suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer and was being treated at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla when she died. Her advance health care directive stated that she wanted all measures taken to prolong her life. The woman designated her son as the person who could make health care decisions for her, and he also told the doctors that he wanted everything done to prolong her life.

Doctor's ComputerHowever, the hospital did not provide the woman with certain life-support measures because her doctors believed that the measures would have been ineffective and would have caused her to suffer more harm than good. One of her doctors believed that continuing to treat her would cause her additional pain and suffering. He entered a do not resuscitate (DNR) order, but he did not tell the woman’s son about the order at the time. The woman’s son understood that her death was imminent and that she was not going to survive, but he still wanted her advance health-care directive to be followed. The woman’s condition continued to deteriorate while she was at the hospital, and she died several days after her arrival.

Her children sued the hospital, alleging that the hospital failed to provide the life-sustaining treatment she had requested in her advance health care directive, arguing in part that the hospital committed elder abuse by neglecting and physically abusing her.

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Earlier this month, a nine-year-old boy was injured when the inflatable bounce house that he was playing inside was lifted off the ground and blown onto a nearby highway. According to a local news report, the inflatable toy was blown from a residential neighborhood in Adelanto about a quarter-mile away onto Highway 395.

Bounce HouseAs the bounce house was falling back toward the ground, the young boy fell from the house onto the ground, sustaining minor injuries. The bounce house then rolled into a car. The driver of the car reported being “shook up” but was not injured. It is not clear whether any California personal injury claim will result from the events.

This was just the most recent of several accidents involving inflatable bounce houses over the past few years. The article discusses two other incidents in which bounce houses were blown away. In both cases, the children inside at the time suffered serious injuries.

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One of the most important considerations in any California personal injury case is understanding when the claim must be filed. In a recent case, an appellate court allowed a California motorcycle accident case to proceed to trial despite the defendant’s argument that the claim was filed after the relevant statute of limitations had expired.

MotorcycleThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff hired an accounting firm to manage her finances. As part of the agreement, the firm was to purchase insurance for the plaintiff and her family. The plaintiff asked the firm to obtain uninsured/underinsured insurance with a $5 million policy limit, but the firm obtained a policy with a limit of only $1.5 million.

The plaintiff’s son was later involved in a motorcycle accident, resulting in his sustaining serious injuries. The plaintiff only then found out that her insurance policy was limited to $1.5 million. After receiving the $1.5 million payout under her insurance policy, the plaintiff sued the accounting firm, alleging that she and her son suffered damages because they could not collect the additional money under the policy that she had requested.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case discussing the element of causation. Specifically, the court was tasked with determining if a party responsible for an accident that occurred several years earlier could be held liable for a subsequent accident that was caused in part by the accident victim’s inability to avoid the accident, due to the injuries they sustained in the initial accident years before.

Motorized ScooterNot surprisingly, the court determined that the plaintiff’s theory of causation was too attenuated to hold the party that was allegedly at fault for the initial accident responsible for the later accident.

The Facts of the Case

In 2005, a man was seriously injured when a tire on the vehicle in which he was riding as a passenger blew out, causing the vehicle to collide with a telephone pole. As a result of the injuries he sustained, the man’s mobility was severely limited, and he was forced to get around by using a motorized scooter.

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Any time an individual files a California personal injury lawsuit, they must be able to provide evidence of each element of their claim. In a traditional negligence case, this means establishing that the defendant violated a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff. While the outcome of a case can vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, generally, states follow one of four basic theories regarding fault:

  • Parking LotPure Contributory Negligence – a plaintiff cannot recover damages if they are found to be even the slightest bit at fault.
  • Pure Comparative Negligence – a plaintiff can recover damages if they are partially at fault (even 99% at fault).

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California personal injury case involving the question of whether a landlord of a building that rents space to a health club has a duty to ensure that the club has a defibrillator device on hand. Ultimately, the court concluded that while the operator of a health club is legally obligated to provide the defibrillator devices under a state statute, that duty does not extend to the landlord.

Boxing GlovesThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving loved ones of a man who died of a heart attack while working out at a boxing gym. The defendant was the owner of the building where the gym was located. Following the death of their loved one, the plaintiffs filed a case against the defendant landlord. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant was negligent in failing to ensure that the boxing gym installed defibrillator devices, as is required under Health and Safety Code section 104113.

Specifically, section 104113 requires that all “health studios” maintain defibrillator devices on hand. The statute defines a health studio as “a facility permitting the use of its facilities and equipment or access to its facilities and equipment, to individuals or groups for physical exercise, body building, reducing, figure development, fitness training, or any other similar purpose, on a membership basis.”

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