Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California premises liability lawsuit discussing the element of causation and which evidence must be presented to survive a defense challenge for summary judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant met his initial burden of showing that the plaintiff would be unable to establish causation, and the plaintiff failed to present any evidence to the contrary. Thus, the court held that the plaintiff’s case was properly dismissed.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiffs lived in a second-floor apartment in a building owned by the defendant. One day, a fire started in the plaintiffs’ apartment, causing several of the tenants to suffer burn injuries. The plaintiffs filed a premises liability lawsuit against the landlord, claiming that a wall heater in the apartment was defective.
The defendant presented two experts who testified that the cause of the fire was the wall heater. However, neither expert could definitively say whether the wall heater was defective or whether combustible material – such as a blanket or couch – was placed too close to the heater. The plaintiffs did not present any evidence during the motion.
The defendant argued that the experts’ testimony established that the plaintiff would be unable to prove causation. The plaintiffs’ position was that the two contrary theories of what could have caused the fire presented a factual issue that should be resolved by the jury.
The trial court found in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiffs appealed.
The Appellate Decision
On appeal, the case was affirmed in favor of the defendant. The court explained that, in order to survive a defense motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff must establish a contested issue of fact. The court went on to explain that the “mere possibility of … causation is not enough; and when the matter remains one of pure speculation or conjecture, or the probabilities are at best evenly balanced, it becomes the duty of the court to direct a verdict for the defendant.”
Here, the court held that the defense experts’ testimony did not create a contested issue of fact when they narrowed down the cause of the fire to two possible causes. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that an inference in favor of finding causation could be made from the experts’ testimony because this was “mere conjecture.” As a result, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claim against the landlord.
Have You Been Injured in a Rented Property?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a rented property, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a California premises liability lawsuit. As the above discussion illustrates, presenting evidence of each element of a claim is critical to success. The dedicated California injury lawyers at Sharifi Firm have extensive experience assisting victims and their families with pursuing the compensation they need and deserve. Call 866-422-7222 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today. Calling is free, and we will not send you a bill for our services unless we can help you recover for your injuries.
More Blog Posts:
The Types of Available Damages in California Injury Claims, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 6, 2018
California Court Awards Additional Costs After Party Rejects Settlement and Loses at Trial, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 19, 2018