Teen Driving Accidents in California, accident lawyer, injury attorneyA car crash resulting in multiple teen deaths in Orange County, CA was reported by the Los Angeles Times to involve the following all too common factors in traffic collisions involving younger persons as follows:

  • The auto accident happened at approximately 2:10 a.m. as the teens were returning from Knott’s Berry Farm.
  • There were five total occupants in the vehicle at the time of the crash (A driver and four passengers).
  • Three of the five passengers are believed to have died from blunt force trauma from the impact rather than a subsequent vehicle fire that broke out.  This could indicate a lack of seat belt use.
  • The accident appears to have involved a vehicle that veered off the freeway, went up an embankment, slammed into a guard rail and burst into flames.  This indicates that the driver was probably traveling at an excessive speed for roadway conditions and/or made some other dangerous driving maneuver prior to the crash.
  • The teen driver operating the motor vehicle when it crashed is reported to not have had either a permanent or even restricted license.

What can we learn from this terrible tragedy?

As a personal injury attorney serving Los Angeles and Orange County, CA, I have, unfortunately, seen many such tragedies involving traffic collisions with teenage drivers and passengers.  As I discussed in a related blog post ,  motor vehicle collisions involving younger people tend to have common factors.  These include the following:

  • Inexperience behind the wheel which leads to either unsafe driving techniques or an inability to ascertain the proper speed and distances needed to negotiate a particular driving maneuver
  • Too many people in the car, which can lead to rowdy behavior and other distractions which can take the driver’s attention off the road.
  • Distracted driving due to cell phone, loud radio music or other similar diversions of attention.
  • Lack of seat belt use.
  • Driving in the late night or early morning hours which can lead to drowsiness or fatigue of the driver.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (although, there doesn’t seem to be a finding of that in this particular case).

My advice as an auto accident lawyer who deals with claims involving teenage accident victims in Los Angeles and Orange County CA:

First and foremost: I am a huge advocate of education.  This includes formal driver’s safety education classes such as those offered through programs approved by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.  Education has to continue, though, through parents, older siblings, teachers, mentors and other  adults with relationships with teen drivers.  Following the protocol set forth by the CA DMV for obtaining a provisional license first and driving with an adult is the best way, in my opinion, to get some of this “hands on” training.  Driving is a skill that develops over time and, just like any other skill, it needs to be practiced.  Second: I would never suggest allowing teenage drivers to operate a motor vehicle with other teen passengers.  In fact, California law forbids this practice in many circumstances especially during the provisionary licensing stage.  Third: We need to teach kids and young adults the importance of seat belt use.  Lack of safety restraints is the NUMBER ONE cause of fatalities in motor vehicle accidents according to any number of studies including those conducted by organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Fourth: It goes without saying that teaching the dangers of driving under the influence cannot be stressed enough at home and school.  Finally, restricting the hours when a teen can use the family car to daytime or early evening is a good way to reduce the chance of collisions.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims in this terrible incident!

police brutality claims in California, Los Angeles police misconduct lawyerThe Los Angeles Times reported today (see article here) that the California Highway Patrol has agreed to settle a civil rights police brutality claim for $1.5 Million.  The plaintiff, Marlene Pinnock, was a 51 year old woman who was held on the ground and repeatedly punched by a CHP officer on the side of the 10 freeway near Los Angeles.  The beating was videotaped by a passing motorist and the videotape sparked widespread protest.  I thought I would use this incident to explore the legal aspects of such claims.

What is the legal standard for a civil rights violation or other claims for personal injury in California and under Federal Law related to police brutality?

The main statute pertinent to these types of claims is a federal statute found in chapter 42 of the United States Code at section 1983 which states, in pertinent part, as follows:

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress …”.

To break this down into elements, a person claiming to have had their civil rights violated by actions of a “peace” officer would need to show the following:

  • That the police officer was a “person” acting “under the color of state law.”   This requires a showing that the law enforcement official was acting in their official capacity at the time of the incident.  In this CHP beating case example, the officer was clearly “in the line of duty” at the time of the incident, in uniform and acting in his official capacity as a highway patrolman.
  • The “subjects or causes to to be subjected” is a causation requirement.  In other words there must be some act or failure to act on the part of state officials that caused a violation of civil rights.  Clearly there was a beating of an individual in this case that caused physical or emotional harm, however, the argument to hold the state agency (in this case CHP) responsible would be either a lack of training, supervision, or some other policy or procedural violation.
  • The language “deprivation of rights … secured by the Constitution and laws” requires that the constitutional rights are violated.  In the case of police misconduct claims like this one, the principal constitutional provisions that may be violated are found in the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unlawful arrest, imprisonment or excessive force by police and the Fourteenth Amendment, which mandates “due process of law” to individuals suspected of criminal activity.  In other words, the argument here would be that the victim had a right to be detained or arrested through proper legal process and without being subjected to excessive force on the part of the police officer.

In addition, tort laws in California would allow for individual causes of action against the officer for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  A civil assault is defined as intentional acts which cause another person to be placed in fear for their safety and a battery is unlawful or offensive physical contact of an individual by another person. (See:  California Civil Jury Instruction 1301 – Assault and California Civil Jury Instruction 1300 – Battery ). The tort of inflicting emotional distress requires intentional “extreme conduct” which causes “severe emotional distress” and was either intentional or done with a “reckless disregard of the probability that the plaintiff [person bringing suit] would suffer emotional distress.” California Civil Jury Instruction 1600 .  There are also California state statutes which may come into play such as the “Unruh Civil Rights Act” found in California Civil Code 51 and 52 which prohibits denial of civil liberties based upon immutable characteristics such as “race, gender, ancestry, religion, national origin, disability or medical condition”.  While there are many other state and federal laws that may be implicated in a police misconduct claim in California, these would be the main, potential legal causes of action.

Importance of consulting and retaining an attorney promptly following a case of potential police misconduct in California:

Fortunately, CA has hundreds of police officers in both state and local agencies who do a fine job of law enforcement without resorting to the type of conduct reflected in this incident. However, given the size of the State of California, the number of law enforcement personnel employed in the Golden State and the number of encounters between citizens and police, there are bound to be incidents which may give rise to civil claims for police brutality or misconduct.  These include shootings, beatings, false imprisonment, improper arrests and other instances.  Civil claims for money damages that may be brought in these cases have very strict requirements and procedures.  For example, there are additional Government Tort Claims that must be filed as a precursor to bringing a court action and the results of criminal proceedings can effect and, sometimes, invalidate civil claims.  For all these reasons and more, it is crucial to consult with a lawyer familiar with Cal. civil rights claims involving police as quickly as possible.  Obtaining the right legal advice and taking the right actions in a timely manner can mean the difference between being able to recover for medical expenses, emotional harm and, potentially, punitive damages and other remedies or losing all legal rights to do so!

 

surgical instrument, medical negligence, California law“Res Ipsa Loquitur” is a Latin phrase which, literally, translates to, “the thing speaks for itself.”  Under California personal injury laws, its meaning is that there are times when evidence cannot necessarily be shown to determine if there was negligence but, the facts and circumstances surrounding an injury show that the person hurt would not normally be harmed in the manner in which they were in the absence of a negligent act.  In other words, where the accident giving rise to injury is probably the result of someone’s negligence because such things usually do not happen absent legal culpability, then the trier of fact [judge or jury] may infer that negligence occurred and the burden would shift to the defendant to show evidence to the contrary. Brown v. Poway Unified School District (1993) 4 Cal.4th 820 .

The law is set out in California Evidence Code §646 as follows:

“(b) The judicial doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is a presumption affecting the burden of producing evidence.
(c) If the evidence, or facts otherwise established, would support a res ipsa loquitur presumption and the defendant has introduced evidence which would support a finding that he was not negligent or that any negligence on his part was not a proximate cause of the occurrence, the court may, and upon request shall, instruct the jury to the effect that:
(1) If the facts which would give rise to a res ipsa loquitur presumption are found or otherwise established, the jury may draw the inference from such facts that a proximate cause of the occurrence was some negligent conduct on the part of the defendant; and
(2) The jury shall not find that a proximate cause of the occurrence was some negligent conduct on the part of the defendant unless the jury believes, after weighing all the evidence in the case and drawing such inferences therefrom as the jury believes are warranted, that it is more probable than not that the occurrence was caused by some negligent conduct on the part of the defendant.”

Three Prong Test for Applying the “Presumed Negligence Doctrine” in California

There are generally three prongs that must be met in order to presume a negligent act under the Laws of the State of California as follows:

 

• That the accident is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone’s negligence;

 

• That the accident was caused by an agency or instrumentality within the defendant’s (or defendants’) exclusive control; and

 

• That the accident was not due to any voluntary action or contribution on plaintiff’s part. [Newing v. Cheatham (1975) 15 C3d 351, 359, 124 CR 193, 199; see California Civil Jury Instruction 417].
In determining whether this condition is satisfied, the trier of fact may consider common knowledge, expert witness testimony, and the circumstances relating to the particular accident in issue.  This is normally an issue for the trier of fact (i.e. a jury).

Examples of when this doctrine is applied in different personal injury claims

Common instances where a “res ipsa loquitur” presumption would arise would include the following:

  • Patient with an instrument left inside their body cavity following surgery: In the medical malpractice context, the most common instance is when a patient comes out of surgery only to find that a surgical instrument such as a clamp, sponge or other device has been retained in his or her body cavity.  Normally, doctors and nurses are supposed to count the total number of instruments and devices and to recount what was used after the surgery to insure that such things don’t happen.
  • Premises Liability Claims: While the typical “slip and fall” in a commercial establishment usually doesn’t evoke the doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur, there are instances where the doctrine has been applied related to accidents on commercial properties such as restaurants.  For example, the doctrine was applied to an instance where a person was injured when a stool (being used normally) collapsed and caused a fall.  The court reasoned as follows:
    “First, it is safe to say that in light of common experience, a counter stool does not ordinarily fall off its base when used normally unless someone is negligent. Second, the counter stool in this case was in respondent’s exclusive control. According to the declarations of Jose Delgado, the manager of respondent’s restaurant for 14 years preceding the current manager, and Tomas Ruiz, who has been the manager of respondent’s restaurant since November 2007, no changes or modifications were made in the method by which the stool was attached to its metal base. Finally, appellant sat upon the stool in an ordinary manner, tilting it about an inch to facilitate his doing so. There was sufficient evidence to establish that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied.” Howe v. Seven Forty Two Co., Inc. (2010) 189 Cal.App.4th 1155, 1162 [117 Cal.Rptr.3d 126, 130]
  • Product Liability Claims: There are numerous instances where products explode or break upon normal use and the courts have applied the Res Ipsa doctrine to show that the “instrument of injury” (the product) was in the exclusive control of the manufacturer and/or distributor and would not have exploded or broken absence negligence in the manufacturing or distribution of the product.

Necessity for employing a knowledgeable California injury lawyer to analyze any instance where a presumption of negligence may lie:

While it is rare that a California court would allow an instruction that negligence may be presumed, these cases can and do happen.  Without the assistance of competent legal counsel to analyze the facts of any particular case, it is impossible to know whether this doctrine applies or if it can be used to leverage a settlement or to obtain a judgment by jury trial.  Retaining an attorney to analyze these instances is crucial!

explosion accidents, California, San Bruno, California LawThe California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has issued a fine of $1.4 Billion against Pacific Gas & Electric, a California Utility Provider for the gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno California that killed 8 people including a mother and her 13 year old daughter.  The explosion engulfed an entire suburban neighborhood in flames.  The fine is believed to be the largest ever issued by the CPUC, the CA administrative agency charged with regulating commercial utility providers.  It follows a prior order for PG&E to pay over $600 Million to repair and upgrade the gas pipelines.  The decision is expected to be appealed.

The facts of this incident are particularly egregious in that the explosion was apparently caused by a faulty weld in a pipe which the utility company had previously reported as “smooth and unwelded.”  After significant investigation, the CPUC and federal authorities determined that PG&E was derelict in their duties to maintain the pipes in a safe condition for delivery of natural gas and that they failed to shut off the gas for approximately 95 minutes after the initial blast.

The explosion has prompted numerous wrongful death lawsuits filed.  The attorneys representing the victims have alleged and are conducting discovery into the prior lapses of safety procedures that led up to this tragic incident.  One such lawsuit alleges that, ““PG&E had knowledge of this pipeline’s defective condition [citing over 411 prior citations for lapses in safety] but put profits ahead of public safety.” (See here).

California Law on Accidents Caused by Hazardous Activities Like Gas and Electricity Delivery

California, like many other jurisdictions, holds persons engaging in so-called “ultra-hazardous activities” like the delivery of explosive materials like natural gas or potentially dangerous products like electricity to the highest duty of care possible.  In fact, California law states as follows:

“People must be extremely careful when they deal with dangerous items or participate in dangerous activities. [Delivery of natural gas] is dangerous in and of itself. The risk of harm is so great that the failure to use extreme caution is negligence.”

Based upon this standard and the findings of the various investigations, it is my opinion that PG&E will likely not only settle the various pending wrongful death actions but, pay full value to do so.  It is likely that they may even stipulate to liability for purposes of a jury trial so as to mitigate the introduction of evidence that shows that they acted with gross negligence.  Plaintiff’s counsel will likely want to introduce as much of this evidence as possible in an attempt to not only seek maximum value for the loss of life but, punitive damages as well.  California law provides for compensation to wrongful death claimants (including the spouses, children and parents of the decedent victim) for the loss of income (assuming they were financially dependent upon the deceased) and, in addition, a monetary value for the loss of “love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support” provided by the decedent.  In addition, damages meant to punish the defendant and deter future wrongful conduct are available upon a showing (by a higher burden of proof ["clear and convincing evidence"]) that the defendant engaged in conduct which showed a “reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others.”
Settlement discussions in this case will clearly center around the value of the claims rather than liability.  Each lawyer for the plaintiffs will need to present evidence of the nature and extent of the relationship of any survivor to the deceased victims for purposes of calculating a value of the claim.  In addition, PG&E will likely argue (based upon various authorities including U.S. Supreme Court decisions) that the potential award of punitive damages must bear a “reasonable relationship” to the “compensatory” award. (i.e. the punitive portion of the award must not be extremely disproportionate to the amount awarded for loss of income and the loss of relationship).
We offer our condolences to the families of the victims in this case.  We wish the attorney representing these victims to seek maximum recovery for this devastating event and hope that any amounts paid as either fines, settlements or judgments, will provide and incentive to PG&E and other California utility companies to make their practices safer to reduce the chances of this type of tragedy in the future!

Additional Resources:

California Law on Recovery for Personal Injuries Caused by Dangerous Activities

elder abuse, California lawAccording to the governmental statistics compiled and studies conducted by the California Department of Aging, the population of the Golden State over the age of 60 (considered “elderly”) and over the age of 85 has steadily increased and is expected to continue increasing over the next several decades.  In fact, Cal. is expected to have a 112% increase in their older citizens between 1990 and 2020, according to statistical data.  While medical advances and other factors have increased both life expectancy and quality of life for older Californians, the fact still remains that, at some point in time, most if not all elderly persons will need the assistance of either a home caregiver or to become a resident in a long term care nursing home or assisted living facility.  While the vast majority of these health care providers provide quality and caring service, acts of negligence and even intentional abuse of the elder population can and still do happen with too much frequency.  This is why the laws of the State of California have long provided for protection of the elderly through regulation and enforcement of strict guidelines for elder care workers and facilities and through civil remedies for monetary damages for the abuse of the elderly.

Definition of Elder Abuse Under CA law:

Elder abuse is defined as physical, emotional and/or financial abuse of any adult over the age of 65 under California Welfare and Institutions Code 15600 and following. Depending upon the type of abuse claimed, the elements include the following:

  • Financial Abuse of An Elder Adult: Under California Welfare and Institutions Code section 15610.30 a defendant is liable for civil damages upon proof that the defendant did the following: (1) “took, hid, appropriated or retained” the property of a person 65 years old or older; (2) for a “wrongful use” or “with the intent to defraud”; and (3) this caused damages to the elder person.
  • Neglect of An Elder: One is liable for “neglect” as defined by California Welfare and Institutions Code 15610.57 upon proof of the following: (1) the defendant had “care or custody” of an adult person 65 years of age or older; (2) Failed to use the degree of care that a reasonable person in the same situation would have used by “failing to assist in personal hygiene or in the provision of food, clothing, or shelter; failing to provide medical care for physical and mental health needs; failing to protect the elderly person from health and safety hazards; failing to prevent malnutrition or dehydration” or any other means of negligence; which (3) caused harm.
  • Physical Abuse: Under Cal. Wel. and Inst. Code section 15610.63, a defendant is liable for physically abusing an elderly adult when they engage in physical abuse of an adult over 65 years old and this causes harm (including physical or emotional damages) to the adult over 65.

While the amount necessary to compensate for actual harm is recoverable if any of the above is shown, the additional, so-called, “enhanced remedies” (which include potential punitive damages and an award of attorney’s fees and costs) are available upon a showing that any of the above actions were done with recklessness, oppression or fraud.  Case law has held that, “a plaintiff must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that defendant is guilty of something more than negligence; he or she must show reckless, oppressive, fraudulent, or malicious conduct. The latter three categories involve ‘intentional,’ ‘willful,’ or ‘conscious’ wrongdoing of a ‘despicable’ or ‘injurious’ nature. ‘Recklessness’ refers to a subjective state of culpability greater than simple negligence, which has been described as a ‘deliberate disregard’ of the ‘high degree of probability’ that an injury will occur. Recklessness, unlike negligence, involves more than ‘inadvertence, incompetence, unskillfulness, or a failure to take precautions’ but rather rises to the level of a ‘conscious choice of a course of action . . . with knowledge of the serious danger to others involved in it.’ ” Delaney v. Baker (1999) 20 Cal.4th 23.   In addition, if the egregious conduct is on the part of an employee of a nursing home, extended care facility, assisted living arrangement or some other employer charged with physical care of the elderly, that an “officer, director, or managing agent” of the employer had advance knowledge of the unfitness of the employee for their job duties and employed them with a “knowing disregard for the rights and safety of others.” California Civil Jury Instruction 3102.

 

 

Additional Resources:

“What Should I Know About Elder Abuse?”, pamphlet, State Bar of California

California Long Term Care Ombudsman Program

California Nursing Home and Elder Abuse Claims Attorney

California Personal Injury LawsThis November, California voters will get to decide whether or not the caps on damages in medical malpractice cases should be raised for the first time since they were enacted in 1975.   Along with this lift on damages, will be further measures to prevent doctors from being under the influence of alcohol or drugs while treating patients and to prevent them from over prescribing pain medications to persons with a history of substance abuse.  The ballot initiative is proposition 46 (also known as the Troy and Alana Pack Safety Act of 2014) and the highlights are as follows:

  • An increase in the current limit on non-economic damages from $250,000 to account for inflation since 1975, which would place the limit at slightly over $1 Million.
  • Require drug and alcohol screening of physicians and mandatory reporting to the California Medical Board for those who test positive.
  • Require the CA Medical Board to suspend doctors pending investigations following a positive druge test and to take disciplinary action if a doctor is found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on duty.
  • Require health practitioners to report any physician suspected of drug or alcohol impairment while on duty or medical negligence.
  • Require physicians to run a check through the state prescription drug history database before prescribing certain controlled substances.

The measure will not affect any other aspects of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) that was enacted in the early 1970’s other than the cap on pain and suffering damages.  The limitations on attorney’s fees, shorter statute of limitation and the various other aspects of that law will stay in place. Moreover, the damages cap is simply being adjusted for inflation.   The question then becomes, why are physician’s groups in California touting this measure as, “trial lawyers waging an aggressive campaign to weaken or overturn California’s landmark Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act”. (California Medical Association blog).  Would the increase of pain and suffering damages to simply account for inflation have the “drastic” consequences of driving up medical malpractice insurance premiums and send doctors fleeing the Golden State!  The statistics and evidence simply don’t bear out their arguments.

Myth: MICRA was a necessary measure to stem a major “crisis” in California of rising medical malpractice insurance premiums.

Fact: In 1975, the insurance industry was not nearly as regulated as they are presently with regard to regulation of premium increases.  All studies on the issue failed to point to “frivolous” medical negligence claims as a cause for the increased cost of insurance for physicians.  In fact, many experts opined that the poor economic conditions of the period had more to do with the premium increases as insurance companies depend upon investment income to make a profit.

Myth: MICRA has served to reduce medical negligence insurance premiums and raising the cap on economic damages will cause these premiums to go back up.

Fact: National statistics show that premiums for physicians in states with caps on damages are actually higher than in states without caps.  In addition, between 2001 and 2011, payments for malpractice claims went down by 50% and profits for insurance companies went up but, premiums only decreased bya whopping 7 %.  This appears to indicate that any reduction on claims simply goes to line the pockets of the insurance industry and does very little to reduce premiums for doctors.

Myth: States without damages caps are suffering from a “doctor shortage” and caps serve to keep doctors in the state.

Fact:  States without damages caps (like New York) actually have a higher number of physicians per capita than states with caps (like California or Texas).

The fact is that simply increasing the limit on non-economic damages to account for inflation is a just and fair measure for all Californians.  The insurance lobby was behind the enactment of MICRA and will, no doubt, pour millions of dollars into trying to convince the average person in the Golden State that the measure was and is fair but, what is fair about limiting parents of a dead child to $250,000 in recovery?  What is fair about putting this same cap on recovery for the loss of a limb?  In addition, wouldn’t we all be more safe if we had testing of doctors and disciplinary procedures in place when physicians operate under the influence of alcohol or drugs or improperly prescribe narcotics to patients proven to be a risk?  I think this answer is YES.  Vote YES on 46!

 

Additional Resources:

Ballot Pedia – Full Text of The Proposed Bill

Consumer Attorneys of California – MICRA Issues Overview

 

wrongful death lawyer Los Angeles The Hollywood Reporter reports today that the death of Lisa Robin Kelly at a drug rehabilitation facility in California (“Pax House”) has spawned a wrongful death lawsuit by her former husband, Robert Gilliam.  (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/estranged-husband-70s-show-actress-710636).  The story seems to indicate that Mr. Gilliam was “estranged” from Kelly in the period shortly preceding her death.  The allegations as set forth in his complaint are that he was trying to get Kelly into a drug rehab closer to their former home in N.C. and that he had a loving relationship with Kelly and, therefore, valid claims as a widower.

What is the standard under California law for damages in a wrongful death lawsuit?

Obviously, Mr. Gilliam will have to prove that the drug rehabilitation facility is liable for the death of Ms. Kelly, which require showing that they fell below the standard of care for a health practitioner in the business of providing addiction treatment.  He will also need to show that this was a legal cause which contributed in more than a trivial way to the death.  If he does prove these allegations, however, he must then demonstrate the value of his claim (i.e. his “damages”).

As with any personal injury or wrongful death claim in California, damages for the death of an adult person fall into two categories as follows: (1) “Economic Damages”; and (2) “Non-Economic Damages”.

Economic Damages: The laws of CA basically describe out of pocket losses for the death of an adult person in four categories:

  • Lost Family Income: California Jury Instruction 3921 describes the available claims for lost income as follows: “The financial support, if any, that the decedent would have contributed to the family during either the life expectancy that had before [his/her] death or the life expectancy of the plaintiff, whichever is shorter.”  This means that it must be shown through documents such as wage statements or bank records that the person who died was providing at least some financial support to the person claiming injury.  A related Cal. jury instruction provides a formula for figuring out the “life expectancy” of people based upon their age, sex and other factors and, if it can be shown that the person killed was able to earn money for their entire life, the amount of annual income is multiplied over the number of the “shorter” of the life expectancy in years of either the person who died or their survivor.
  • Lost “Gifts or Benefits”: The term “gifts” is not really defined and could mean any number of things.  “Benefits” usually mean things like insurance or other similar things.
  • Funeral and Burial Expenses 
  • Reasonable Value of Household Services: This can include the cost of hiring persons to handle household chores or child care if the decedent was providing those services prior to death.

In the present case, Mr. Gillam will probably be only seeking lost income.  This will require a showing that he was receiving income or support from Ms. Kelly prior to her death.  This may entail showing of both residual income (if any) from “That 70’s Show” as well as future acting jobs.  In order to be compensable, any alleged future income must be more than “speculative” in nature (i.e. there must be a reasonable likelihood that Ms. Kelly would have obtained jobs in the future that would have paid Mr. Gillam income or spousal support).

Non-Economic Damages: California personal injury law provides that the surviving spouse or children of a person killed by the negligence or intentional wrongdoing of another person or company may receive the value of the, “loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support” and, in the case of a deceased husband or wife, the “loss of sexual relations”.   There is no, set standard on calculating these damages.  However, the law asks a jury not to consider three things in coming to a decision on a non-economic damage wrongful death award, which are as follows:

  1. “Grief, sorrow or mental anguish”;
  2. “Pain and suffering”; and
  3. “The poverty or wealth of the plaintiff.”

Again, putting liability issues aside, in my opinion as a California wrongful death attorney,  this will really be where the heart of the matter lies in the Gillam case.  Mr. Gillam will need to show that his loss of “love, companionship, etc.” has value by showing the nature of his relationship with Ms. Kelly in the time frame leading up to her death.  His allegations are that they had reconciled their relationship and he was in the process of trying to help her recover from drug addiction.  The defense will, obviously, argue that the marriage was strained and that the two were not close in the years and months leading up to the death of Ms. Kelly.  It will be up to a jury to decide these issues assuming the case survives any “dispositive” motions such as a Motion for Summary Judgment.

 

Related Resources:

Wrongful Death Claims in California 

 

 

Dodger Stadium Assault LawyerThe trial of Brian Stow vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers began last week in L.A.   Almost three years ago, Mr. Stow was severely beaten in the parking lot after a game between the Dodgers and the Giants.  Two assailants, Marvin Norwood and Louie Sanchez, have long since pleaded guilty to the beating and have been sentenced to prison for the attack, which left Mr. Stow with permanent brain damage.  The civil suit alleges that the Dodgers organization, through their former owner, Frank McCourt, were negligent in the security operations of the stadium and should be held accountable, at least in part, for the personal injuries sustained by the beating victim.  The plaintiff is seeking approximately $52 Million in damages under theories of civil liability for negligence, specifically, premises liability and negligent hiring/retention/training of security personnel.

What is the standard for holding a business responsible for criminal conduct on their property in CA?

In order for an injured person to hold a property owner responsible for their bodily harm, a plaintiff must prove the following four things:

  1.  That the defendant owned, leased, occupied or controlled the property;
  2. That the defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
  3. That the plaintiff was harmed; and
  4. That the defendant’s negligence was a “substantial factor” in causing the harm suffered. See CA Civil Jury Instruction 1000

There does not seem to be any dispute that the parking area where the beating occurred in this case was owned by the Dodgers.  There is also no dispute that Mr. Stow has sustained major, life altering injuries including head trauma which left him an a coma and has since caused him to have permanent loss of cognitive and bodily function (although the defense will no doubt dispute the extent of the injuries and the cost of present and future medical care).  What is really at issue in this case is whether the Dodger’s ownership was “negligent” in the “use or maintenance” of the parking area in question and whether this negligence as a “substantial factor” in causing the harm.  The plaintiff has several arguments that seem to center around the lack of proper security measures including alleged poor lighting and lack of security personnel patrolling in this area at the time of the beating.  There apparently will be evidence that security was scaled back prior to the incident by owner Frank McCourt as a cost saving measure. The defense is counter arguing that the security on site on the date of the incident was sufficient for this size sporting event and venue.  No doubt, experts will testify on both sides as to the adequacy or inadequacy of security guards and police presence.

Generally, a property owner in California is not liable for criminal conduct by third parties unless it is foreseeable.  Mr. Stow’s attorneys will argue that a property where rival fans congregate, are served copious amounts of alcohol, and are let out of the stadium after skirmishes or verbal arguments are engaged in inside the stadium, should be enough to put Dodger Stadium on notice of a need for tight parking lot security.  The defense will likely argue that the security provided was reasonable even given all of those factors.

When is a sport team or other commercial enterprise liable for negligent hiring, training or supervision of security staff under the laws of the State of California?

Next at issue on the liability front will be arguments that the Dodger’s organization failed to act reasonably in the manner in which they hired, trained or supervised their employees retained to surveill and secure the property.  This claim requires proof of the following:

  1. That the employee(s) was/were unfit/ [or] incompetent] to perform the work for which they were hired;
  2. That the Dodgers management knew or should have known that employee(s) was/were [unfit/ [or] incompetent] and that this [unfitness/ [or] incompetence] created a particular risk to others;
  3. That the security staff’s unfitness/ [or] incompetence harmed plaintiff; and
  4. That the Dodger’s negligence in [hiring/ supervising/ [or] retaining] the security personnel was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Stow’s harm.

Again, if staff were supposed to be patrolling the area in which the assault and battery took place but, were not, then arguments could be made that such failure was based upon inadequate screening, training or supervision of these security guards.  Likewise, if staff were not trained or supervised to remove rowdy patrons who engage in verbal altercations inside the stadium, a security expert may opine that this was the result of poor training and/or supervision.  The defense will likely counter that the staff was adequately trained and supervised but, they couldn’t possibly be in all places at once nor could the Dodgers foresee that a verbal altercation in the stands could result in a near deadly beating in the parking lot.   A jury will have to decide who is right on these issues.  CA Civil Jury Instruction 426.

Additional Resources:

For more information on negligent security claims in California including at sporting events in Los Angeles, click here.

 

paul walker death, california speeding laws, california auto accidents, los angeles car wrecks

Paul Walker dies in fatal car wreck in Los Angeles County California.

The Paul Walker car crash near Los Angeles last year has prompted a lawsuit against Porsche of North America.  The lawsuit alleges various causes of action including negligence and strict products liability.  (For full copy of complaint via PDF, click here).  The legal action is brought by one of the survivors of Paul Rodas (the driver at the wheel at the time of the crash who was a professional race car driver).  The suit also alleges false advertising claims and related violations of the California Business and Professions Code.

What does a plaintiff have to prove in an alleged product design defect claim in California?

There are basically two types of product defect claims as follows: claims of defects in the manufacture of a product; or assertions that the product was defective by design.  In the case of the Roda’s claim in question here, the allegation is that the Porsche Carrera model involved in the crash was defective in design for lack of a racing fuel cell.  Under California law, this will require proof of the following:

  1. That the vehicle, as designed, was defective; and
  2. The defect was a substantial factor in causing the death of Rodas.

The question becomes how does CA law define a manufacturing design defect.  For this, the court will probably rely upon the so-called “Consumer Expectation” test which requires showing that the vehicle did not peform, “as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected it to perform when used or misused in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way”.

This will require extensive expert analysis and testimony.  There are apparently no Porsche models made for street use that are equipped with a racing fuel cell, which essentially encases the fuel tank and keeps it from being exposed to hot brakes or engine parts in the event of a crash.  The plaintiffs allege that this particular model (capable of speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour) had a history of fatal crashes and will argue that Porsche knew or should have known that a fuel cell was necessary to prevent injury or death when the vehicle was traveling at high rates of speed on the street.  Porsche could argue that the incident in question was solely the result of misuse of their product in an unintended manner (i.e. high speed racing on a suburban street) and/or that requiring installing of a racing fuel cell would not be economically feasible and would not have prevented the type of harm suffered.

Related Resources:

Los Angeles Car Accidents

trucking accident lawyer los angeles, trucking accident attorney californiaCan a delivery truck driver be liable for negligent parking under the laws of the State of California?  This was the question presented recently to the California Supreme Court in the matter of Cabral v. Ralph’s Grocery Company 179, Cal.App.4th 1.

Facts of the Case:  A semi truck operator employed by Ralph’s Grocery Company pulled off the freeway in San Bernardino California to eat his lunch.  He parked his vehicle in a dirt area alongside the interstate highway.  He testified that he routinely parked in that spot to eat his lunch.  At the request of the California Highway Patrol, CalTrans had previously placed an “Emergency Parking Only” sign near the area as it had become a spot where truckers were pulling off and stopping for non-emergency reasons.  Plaintiff was traveling at a high rate of speed and inexplicably lost control of his vehicle and slammed into the rear of the tractor trailer and was instantly killed.  There was no indication that the driver was intoxicated prior to the crash and the best speculation was that he may have fallen asleep at the wheel or had some medical condition that caused him to swerve off the road and collide with the semi truck.

Result of the Jury Trial: The jury found that the plaintiff was 90 percent at fault for the accident but, found that the Ralph’s truck driver and (vicariously) Ralph’s Grocer Company was 10 percent at fault for parking the truck in an emergency stopping area without exigent circumstances warranting such a stop.  The defendant, Ralph’s, brought a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (so-called “JNOV”).  The trial judge granted the motion and nullified the jury verdict for wrongful death in favor of plaintiff’s surviving heirs.

Result of Appeals of the Jury Verdict: The initial Court of Appeal decision was to uphold the decision of the trial judge.  However, upon review by the California Supreme Court, the decision to nullify the verdict against Ralphs Grocery was overturned.  The Court held that there had in fact been enough evidence for a jury to place some amount of blame (in this case 10%) to the driver of the 18 wheeler for parking his truck in an unauthorized and illegal manner.

The two issues presented upon appeal were as follows:

1. Did the truck driver have a legal duty that was breached:  The court started with the basic law of negligence in California which is codified in Cal. Civil Code 1714 and states: “every person is responsible … for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care.”  It further used the criteria laid out in the landmark decision of Rowland v. Christian (see prior blog post here), i.e. forseeability of causing harm, likelihood of causing bodily injury, difficulty of protecting against the risk of harm in making its decision.  Using these criteria, the CA Supreme Court held a duty did exist on the part of the truck driver and whether that duty was breached was a question of fact for the jury to decide.  They expressed this opinion, inter alia, as follows:

“If a duty is imposed under the facts of this case, where does it end?’ [Citation.] In turn, I ask: If a duty is not imposed under the facts of this case, then where does it begin?” Indeed, one might ask under what circumstances Ralphs would have us recognize a duty of ordinary care in stopping alongside a freeway, if not in these. If stopping 16 feet from the traffic lanes exempts a driver from the duty of care, does the same hold for parking six feet from the lane? Six inches? If we are to create immunity for a truck driver stopping for a few minutes to have a snack, should we also do so for one who decides to sleep for hours by the roadside rather than pay for a motel room? Would the categorical exemption Ralphs seeks still apply if a tractor-trailer driver parked an inch from the traffic lanes, on the outside of a curve, leaving the rig there all night without lights? To ask these questions is to see why a categorical exemption is not appropriate. The duty of reasonable care is the same under all {Slip Opn. Page 26} these circumstances; what varies with the specific facts of the case is whether the defendant has breached that duty. That question, as discussed earlier, is generally one to be decided by the jury, not the court.”

2. Did Parking The Truck On the Side of The Freeway “Cause” The Death:  Here the court used the “substantial factor” test explained in prior posts and determined that a reasonable jury was entitled to conclude from the evidence presented that the parking of the truck on the side of the road was a factor in causing the driver’s death.  They held in pertinent part as follows:

“The negligent conduct plaintiff claimed caused her husband’s death was Horn’s stopping his tractor-trailer rig at the site. The counterfactual question relevant to but-for causation, therefore, is what would have happened if Horn had not stopped his tractor-trailer rig there, not what would have happened if Horn had had a better reason to stop.”

Important Points to Draw From This Decision for Victims of Personal Injury in California:

Decisions like this one show that the civil justice system in California is reluctant to allow judges to simply decide on their own that there should be no legal responsibility for an injury or death in contrast to a jury decision otherwise.  While many factors may contribute to the bodily harm or death of a person, negligence on the part of any person or business should be analyzed as one of many causes and a jury should be allowed to apportion fault for this type of incident.

Related Resources:

Trucking Accident Claims in CA