California Case Law Update

Author: Emily Berman

Guest Editor: Alla Policastro

March 4, 2019 9:00am

Westport Insurance Corp. v. California Casualty Management Co.[1]

California’s Ninth Circuit recently affirmed that an excess insurer for a California school district had to cover $2.6 million of the total $15.8 million settlement paid by the primary insurer to resolve a case involving three former students’ claims of sexual abuse, finding that the lower court had properly apportioned the settlement between the two insurance carriers.

After Westport Insurance Company covered the settlement of the students’ claims, the lower court found that it was entitled to partial indemnity of the settlement payments from the excess insurer, California Casualty Management Co. California Casualty appealed, arguing Westport’s suit seeking indemnification was barred by California Government Code 825.4, which prohibits public entities, such as school districts, from pursuing indemnification for certain settlement or judgment payments from their employees. However, the lower court found that the statutory language of section 825.4 does not impose a ban on the insurer contributing to the defense costs. The appellate panel also rejected California Casualty’s arguments disputing the lower court’s apportionment method, holding the method was unsupported by the relevant language in the two applicable insurance policies.  Finally, it found the district judge did not abuse his discretion by awarding Westport prejudgment interest.

Garcia v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services[2]

Trucking company Tri-Modal Distribution Services was recently hit with an $11 million verdict by a Pomona jury over a fatal freeway crash that occurred off of a Pomona freeway in 2013. The decedent was a passenger in a box truck that collided into the back of Tri-Modal’s big rig where it was parked on the side of the freeway. Plaintiff was the decedent’s wife who alleged the Tri-Modal driver’s negligence was a substantial cause of her husband’s death, and that the driver of her husband’s car was not negligent.

Evidence was presented that the box truck driver was cut off by a car directly in front of him, forcing the box truck to the shoulder where it hit the illegally parked big rig. Though the reason for the illegally parked big rig was in dispute, the jury agreed with Plaintiff on the lack of contributory negligence by the box truck driver and awarded $1.5 million for past and future economic damages, and $10 million for past and future loss of love and companionship, entirely against the Tri-Modal.

Castillo v. Santa Fe Healthcare LLC[3]

A recent summary judgment ruling was affirmed on appeal in favor of a Compton nursing facility in a case involving claims of elder abuse of one of its residents. Plaintiff, who suffered from dementia, filed suit against Santa Fe Healthcare, alleging it either did not have an adequate plan for her care or did not properly implement the plan, leading to her suffering multiple falls, which resulted in fractures.

Santa Fe Healthcare filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and argued plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact, specifically that any abuse occurred or that its services fell below the standard of care.  The trial court granted the Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, plaintiff argued it was wrong to characterize the claims as medical malpractice, arguing the claims were custodial in nature.  Plaintiff also argued the trial court should have excluded testimony from the facility’s physician, who, she argued, did not have any experience of operating a skilled nursing facility. However, the appellate court found that the plaintiff’s falls were medical, not custodial, in nature. Therefore, the physician did not need to have specific knowledge of operating a nursing center, and his expertise in internal medicine was sufficient.

 

[1] Westport Insurance Corp. v. California Casualty Management Co., Case No. 17-15924, US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

[2] Garcia v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services, Case No. BC536714, Superior Court, Los Angeles County.

[3] Castillo v. Santa Fe Healthcare LLC, Case No. B279052, CA Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District

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