Recent Developments in Personal Injury
We update this page with developments since 2000.
Girl Injured in Utero Can Sue Mother's Employer
Skommesa v. Lucky Stores Inc. (2000)
A girl born with severe birth defects caused by her mother's exposure to raw meat at work can sue the employer for damages. While worker's compensation laws generally bar employees from bringing suits against their employers for injuries suffered on the job, minors who are injured in utero because of their mother's job can sue. The mother was exposed to a parasite called toxoplasma gondii in the course of her job inspecting meat. The parasite typically poses no threat to adults but has devastating effect on developing fetuses. The complaint alleged the employer was aware of the mother's pregnancy and of the threat posed to her fetus by the continued exposure to raw meat, however the employer made no attempt to warn the mother of the danger. The Appeals Court relied on Snyder v. Michael's Stores Inc. [16 Cal. 4th 991] that held a a minor-plaintiff could sue because of the damage she received through her mother's employment since the action was for her own injuries and not the mother's injuries. In this case, Lucky's argued it could not be liable for failure to warn because "it is impossible to warn a fetus."
Assumption of the Risk - Recreational Activities
Bjork v. Mason (2000)
Where a boy riding an inner tube being pulled behind a boat suffered eye injuries when the tow line broke, the "assumption of the risk" doctrine does not bar the action. The Court of Appeals reversed a decision granting summary judgment. The court said, "when a person supplies equipment to be used in a sport, even if he or she thereafter becomes a co-participant in the sport, the act of supplying the equipment is separate and distinct from participation … [E]ven where co-participants are involved … the failure of a defendant to have and utilize the correct equipment … [is] critical. It [means] … that the doctrine of … assumption of risk is not an absolute bar to recovery."
Owners & Managers of Real Estate
Saelzler v Advanced Group 400 (2000) — FAILURE TO PROVIDE SECURITY
The victim of a violent assault and attempted rape sued the owner of a 300-unit apartment complex based on the owner's failure to provide adequate security. The court of appeals vacated a summary judgement granted in favor of the owner. The court said, "[W]hen there was a clear duty to provide security and absolutely none was provided, it makes no sense - in logic or in policy - to hold [that] the crime would have occurred. The opposite rule elevates the possible over the probable. It also encourages property owners to ignore their duty of care." This case signals a change in judicial attitude making owners of property responsible for providing a safe environment for those from whom they collect rent.
Alpert v. Villa Romano Homeowners Association (2000) — ASSOCIATION OWES PEDESTRIANS DUTY TO WARN OF DANGEROUS CONDITIONS IN SIDEWALK UNDER ASSOCIATION'S CONTROL
A woman tripped and fell on the upturned and broken sidewalk the Association manager knew was adjacent to the complex. The trial court granted a nonsuit at the conclusion of Plaintiff's case. The Court of Appeal reversed holding it does not matter whether the defendant owns property, but instead whether the defendant controls the area. Defendant planted trees on both sides of the sidewalk, installed sprinklers throughout the area and maintained the entire area. The sidewalk was uplifted, creating a hazard that was the the source of liability, rather than the particular mechanism that caused the sidewalk to become uplifted and to crack. "In our view, … the possessor of land has a duty to warn or protect passersby of defects in sidewalks across its property."
Punitive Damages — Absence of Financial Information
Mike Davidov Company v. Issod (2000)
Under Adams v. Murakani (1991) 54 Cal.3d 105, the California Supreme Court held that an award of punitive damages had to be based on financial information of the defendant presented at trial to establish the defendant's net worth. In this case, the Plaintiff did not present such evidence because the Defendant refused to produce financial information despite a court order. The Defendant appealed an award of punitive damages claiming Plaintiff failed to adduce proof of his net worth. The court held that the Plaintiff did have to conduct pretrial discovery of financial information, nor subpoena the information to trial, nor bifurcate the trial on the punitives issues as a predicate for a court order requiring production of financial information. Civil Code 3295 allows the trial court, at any time, to enter an order permitting discovery of a Defendant's profits and/or financial condition. "In this case, the defendant's records were the only source of information regarding his financial condition available to Plaintiff. By his disobedience of a proper court order, defendant improperly deprived plaintiff of the opportunity to meet his burden of proof on the issue. Defendant may not now be heard to complain about the absence of such evidence."