- Case Updates9.19.22
If a lawyer is not licensed in California but practices law as part of a team of licensed California lawyers, is this enough to invalidate the arbitration agreement between the client and California law firm? That question was squarely answered by California’s Fifth Appellate District in its recent decision in Brawerman v. Loeb & Loeb, LLP. 297 Cal.Rptr.3d ----, 81 Cal.App.5th 1106, 2022 WL 3053302, 2022 Daily Journal D.A.R. 8347. The work performed by an unlicensed attorney that is completed in conjunction with a team of properly qualified attorneys does not invalidate the retainer agreement as a whole, the court concluded. Any allegedly “illegal” work performed by the unlicensed attorney can be severed from the work performed by licensed counsel, thereby allowing the agreement between the parties to be preserved. Since the retainer agreement was not inherently illegal in its inception, its provisions, including the arbitration agreement, can withstand an alleged partial illegality. See, Birbrower, Montalbano, Condon & Frank v. Superior Court (1998) 17 Cal.4th 119 (Birbrower).
- Case Updates9.14.22
A Hollywood producer was not held vicariously liable for the negligent activities of his personal chef in supplying the entourage's executive assistant with drugs and alcohol that contributed to her demise. The court reasoned that the rendezvous between the chef and the assistant took place after hours, in a private bungalow and was not related to the chef's scope of employment.
- Trial Results9.9.22
Sometimes the defense is so strong that the case is gutted before it makes it to the jury. That is the result in a Santa Barbara matter where WSHB trial lawyer Frances O’Meara prevailed on her motion for a directed verdict following plaintiff’s case in chief. Focus on this case now moves to cost recovery given the result and beating the statutory offer to compromise.
- Trial Results9.9.22
When two companies both catering to the rich and famous of Orange County tried to merge, and failed, litigation was bound to ensue. Thankfully, for one of the companies, Rebecca Gabroy was the trial lawyer.
- When it Rains it Pours in Texas: Plaintiff's Negligence Claim Held Water In a Statute of Limitations AnalysisCase Updates9.2.22
The exact moment a statute of limitations begins to run is not always black and white. In a case where water and mud were directed onto a property by an adjacent property’s construction project the Texas Court of Appeals, basing its holding on accrual of nuisance claims rather than accrual of a negligence action, found that the two-year statute of limitations did not accrue until property damage occurred, even though plaintiff knew at a much earlier date that the condition might cause property damage.
- Case Updates8.30.22
This case underscores the importance of interrogatory answers, and attempts to be evasive can come back to bite. In the case of Field v. U.S. Bank National Assn. as Trustee, etc., et al. (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 703, the California Court of Appeals addressed the issue of evasive discovery responses where a plaintiff who filed a wrongful foreclosure claim could not change a deliberately evasive interrogatory answer in an effort to defeat a motion for summary judgment filed against her by the defense.
- Washington Supreme Court: "Claims-Made" Commercial General Liability Insurance Policy Without Retroactive Coverage UnenforceableCase Updates8.29.22
A commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policy that contains a requirement that the loss occur and be reported by the policyholder within the same policy year, and does not include retroactive coverage was in violation of Washington public policy. In Preferred Contractors Ins. Co. v. Baker & Son Construction, Inc., 2022 Wash. LEXIS 426(Aug. 11 2022), the court looked to RCW 18.27.050 which provides that registered contractors bear financial responsibility for bodily injuries and death, and found that a denial of coverage a policy stemming from a wrongful death on a construction site was contrary to the statutorily-supported public policy of protecting the public.
- Pennsylvania Carves Out Cause of Action Against Attorneys for Alleged Fraud in Connection with Settlement of Civil ActionCase Updates8.29.22
In Khalil v. Williams, et al., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that attorneys who may have engaged in fraud in connection with the execution of a release may not shield themselves from potential liability based on the Court’s holding in Muhammad v. Strassbruger, McKenna, Shilobad & Gutnick, 587 A.2d 1346 (Pa. 1991) which stands for the proposition that attorneys cannot be liable on legal malpractice claims when clients change their minds about the sufficiency of a negotiated settlement.
- Case Updates8.19.22
The insured was not entitled to recovery under a professional errors and omissions policy for a loss resulting from a hacking incident. Considering both North Carolina and Pennsylvania law, the court found that coverage was barred by the insurance policy's unauthorized computer use exclusion as well as the insured's failure to comply with the condition to obtain insurer consent before finalizing all settlements. Constr. Fin. Admin. Servs. LLC v. Fed. Ins. Co., No. 2:19-CV-00020, Doc. 63 (E.D. Pa. June 9, 2022).
- Case Updates8.4.22
In Viking River Cruises v. Moriana, B297327 (Cal. App. Sep. 18, 2020), the issue before the court was whether a pre-dispute arbitration agreement under the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") purporting to require arbitration of any such claim is valid. The decision effectively invalidates longstanding California law precluding arbitration of any Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) claim, and will have massive positive repercussions in favor of employers.
- California School District Liable for Stabbing of Student on Campus After She Left School and Returned to Collect BooksCase Updates8.3.22
Schools must take reasonable steps to protect their students from foreseeable injury inflicted by third parties. A trip to Starbucks after track practice did not relieve the school of its duty to a student when she returned to school and was stabbed on campus. The school had a "special relationship" with the student under the law and owed her a heightened duty of care while she was present on campus during open hours.
- Case Updates8.3.22
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that treating physicians who have personal and direct knowledge of the patient in question and who testify as to the standard of care, diagnosis, and treatment for that patient are not considered experts for purposes of the One Expert Rule. Further, the One Expert Rule's purpose is to reduce costs in presenting multiple expert witnesses rather than combating cumulative evidence, which is already addressed by Rule 403 of the Arizona Rules of Evidence.
- Case Updates8.3.22
People suffer injuries on other people's property all the time, but the responsibility to keep them safe may be legally delegated to an independent contractor. In this influential Washington court decision, Eylander v. Prologis Targeted U.S. Logistics Fund, No. 82834-7-I (Wash. Ct. App. Jul. 18, 2022), the court ruled that a landowner must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of an independent contractor's employees on their property, but may delegate that duty if they exercise reasonable care to ensure that the independent contractor will protect their own employees against known or obvious dangers.
- Case Updates8.1.22
A mother's claim against the City of Peoria for an incident resulting in the death of her son was not invalidated due to the inclusion of a shortened settlement window in her notice of claim. The Arizona Supreme Court in James v. City of Peoria, No. CV-21-0125-PR (Ariz. Jul. 18, 2022), found that a notice of claim otherwise in compliance with A.R.S. §12-821.01 is not invalid because it attempts to set a deadline for settlement prior to the sixty-day period outlined by the statute. The action was a legal nullity.
- Case Updates8.1.22
In another defining decision regarding ostensible agency, the Court of Appeal in De Valle v. Doctors Med. Ctr. of Modesto, No. F082099 (Cal. Ct. App. Jul. 6, 2022) found in favor of a defendant hospital. Based upon this recent decision, a patient’s claim for injuries against a hospital based upon ostensible agency for negligent surgery performed by an independent contractor will fail when it is demonstrated that the patient had a pre-existing relationship with the physician, that such physician scheduled the surgery and selected the hospital where the surgery would be performed, and that the patient should have reasonably known that the hospital was simply the venue for the surgery.
- Case Updates7.28.22
A gym member's claim of negligence, gross negligence and premises liability was shot down by the court when it found that she signed a release of claims as part of her membership agreement. A slip and fall in the gym's sauna as a result of a burnt out light bulb did not rise to the level of gross negligence to subject the club to liability.
- Case Updates7.21.22
A court invalidated an arbitration agreement as unconscionable and adhesive where it was presented to an employee as a condition of employment. The agreement was found procedurally unconscionable because the employee spoke Spanish and was only provided documentation in English, without any offer of translation or assistance in understanding the document. The agreement was also found substantively unconscionable because it permitted the arbitrator to shift all attorney's fees and costs to the employee in the event the employee was the losing party and severely limited discovery.
- Case Updates7.19.22
Washington’s Court of Appeals held an owner of land who did not exercise control over the manner of work on a worksite was not vicariously liable for the death of an employee of one of its general contractors. The decision handed down on June 21, 2022, in Farris, et al. v. The Port Blakely Company, et al. is instructive on common law and regulatory scheme establishing the line dividing responsibility between landowners and contractors performing works of improvement.
- Extended Statute of Repose for Injury or Wrongful Death Action is Not Applicable to Employer of OffenderCase Updates7.13.22
The standard statute of limitations for a party to bring a personal injury or wrongful death actions is two years. There are, however, circumstances in which the statute of limitations for such causes of action are extended. The victim of a felony in California, for example, has an extended statute of limitations in which to bring an action for personal injury or wrongful death against the person convicted of that felony. (Code Civ. Proc., § 340.3) In Cardenas v. Horizon, the California Court of Appeal made a notable ruling limiting the extended statute of limitations, holding such an extension does not apply to the convicted felon's employer. The Court further held that Labor Code section 2802, which allows an employee to be indemnified by his or her employer, does not apply to third parties in this circumstance.
- Case Updates7.13.22
The California Court of Appeal ruled that a general liability policy does not provide coverage to a homeowner who grades a neighbors' property because of a mistaken understanding of the property lines. The homeowner’s policy contained standard language creating coverage for property damage caused by an “occurrence,” which the policy defined as an “accident.” The insurer did not have a duty to defend the policyholder because a mistake as to property lines did not qualify as an accident and trigger coverage under the policy.
- In Negligence Suit for Failure to Test for THC, Texas Supreme Court Thwarts Attempt to Discover Information on Unrelated Drivers' Drug UseCase Updates7.12.22
The Texas Supreme Court found in In re UPS Ground Freight, 65 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1532 (Tex. June 17, 2022) [20-0827] that a discovery request in a wrongful death action compelling production of the drug tests and other personal information of uninvolved UPS drivers was overbroad and prohibited by federal law.
- Texas Supreme Court Finds That a Corporation's Director Cannot Owe an Informal Fiduciary Duty To Benefit an Individual ShareholderCase Updates7.12.22
Dick Poe was the only director of Poe Management, Inc. (PMI). As part of that role he authorized the issuance of 1,100 shares of PMI stock, which he purchased for $3.2 million. Prior to the issuance of these shares, Dick's son, Richard, was PMI's only shareholder. Richard did not have knowledge of the issuance until after Dick's death and at that point he brought suit to invalidate the share issuance.
- Case Updates7.6.22
In a recent decision, the Illinois Supreme Court found that an employer's acknowledgement of vicarious liability can no longer prevent a plaintiff from filing negligence claims directly against the employer. Prior to this decision, employers were shielded from independent, individual claims of negligence and could only be vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees, with certain exceptions. Employers and their legal counsel as well as insurance adjusters should take note of this important development.
- New Jersey Supreme Court Rules Mode of Operation Rule Does Not Apply to Sale of Produce in Sealed ContainersCase Updates6.22.22
New Jersey Supreme Court excludes application of rule relieving plaintiffs who bring premises liability claims against businesses that employ self-service models of the burden of proving actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition to produce sold in sealed containers.
- Trial Results6.18.22
Following an eight-week bench trial, plaintiffs dropped its $6 million dollar plus demand and accepted a dismissal with a cost waiver. This trial victory, led by WSHB trial lawyer Rebecca M. Gabroy, underscored a hard fought battle in a complex defamation, breach of contract, lost profits and punitive damage case which endured many failed mediations.
- Trial Results6.17.22
Following a protracted trial, an Orange County jury handed an impressive win for WSHB trial lawyers Sheila Fix and Greg Amundson in a habitability case. Notably, this trial started on March 29 and the verdict was handed down almost three months later.
- Case Updates6.15.22
Senate Bill S74A, also known as the “Grieving Families Act” (“GFA”) is set to vastly expand compensable damages in wrongful death actions. Currently, compensable damages in these types of actions are limited to pecuniary loss only, such as pre-death medical expenses, funeral expenses and loss of financial support.
- Case Updates6.15.22
In the past several years, Florida homeowners have accounted for somewhere between 65 to 80 percent of all property lawsuits filed nationwide. In just this calendar year, insurers in the Florida market have either stopped writing business or have gone under. For instance, since February 2022, at least three insurers – Lighthouse Property Insurance, Avatar Property & Casualty, and St. John’s Insurance Co. – have been declared insolvent.
- Jury Rejects $45 Million Verdict in Fatal Jet Ski Accident; WSHB Trial Team Prevails Following Three Week TrialTrial Results6.14.22
Following a three-week trial, a Los Angeles jury rejected a $45 million demand for a fatality in a jet ski accident in favor of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman’s client.
- Jury Rejects Plaintiff Million Dollar Injury Claim; WSHB Attorneys Beat Statutory Offer in San Diego WinTrial Results6.14.22
In another victory for the team at WSHB, partner Ranjan Lahiri and senior counsel Sarah Spaulding obtained an outstanding verdict for the client, defeating Plaintiff’s 998 offer. Plaintiff who was injured while inside a self-storage unit demanded $1,175,000 in damages.
- Case Updates6.14.22
By way of a recent Arizona Supreme Court holding, Arizona law continues to support the legal conclusion that non-contracting parties cannot maintain a cause of action sounding in negligence for purely economic damages. Cal-Am Properties Inc. v. Edais Eng’g Inc., CV-21-0129-PR, 2022 WL 1613497, at *5 (Ariz. May 23, 2022).
- Case Updates6.13.22
In a trifecta of good news for defense attorneys, three separate cases in the New York Court of Appeals were decided in favor of insurers in bodily injury construction claims. Although it may not yet be considered a trend, a positive decision for the defense, especially in traditionally plaintiff-friendly counties, is good news for insurance companies and the attorneys who defend them.
- Trial Results6.6.22
Another trial “first” for national law firm Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman last week when a Los Angeles jury returned the verdict. Tried by sibling partners, Tracy and Paul Lewis, this case represents a brother-sister trial duo that defeated plaintiff’s claim for over $2.4 million.
- Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Holds that Three Prong Independent Contractor Test Applies to FranchisesCase Updates6.1.22
In a widely-anticipated decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously held that where a franchisee is an “individual performing any service” for a franchisor, the three prong test set forth in the independent contractor statute applies to the relationship between a franchisor and the individual and is not in conflict with the franchisor’s disclosure obligations prescribed by the FTC Franchise Rule.
- Case Updates5.31.22
Appellate Division revokes case law carrying a presumption that third-parties or recording devices are allowed in the examination room for psychological defense medical examinations, but require plaintiffs to show “special circumstances” warranting third-party observation or recording of physical examinations.
- Case Updates5.6.22
After decades of debate, the reform of medical malpractice claims in California is finally coming to fruition. Legislators and interested parties on both sides of the MICRA debate have reached a compromise and agreed to a deal that will avert a planned ballot measure in the upcoming election.
- Case Updates5.4.22
A constant struggle for Florida insurers is how to handle partial claim payments when the Insured assigns benefits under the Policy to entities that are not a party to the insurance contract, like mold mitigation and testing vendors. This is especially true when there may be insufficient limits available due to a mold or water limitation, or when considering how to apply the deductible. A recent Fourth District Court of Appeal decision highlights the conflicting viewpoints on how an insurer should handle these disputes.
- Case Updates5.3.22
A football player injured during a game was barred from filing a claim against the school district and its employees after signing an express assumption of the risk agreement. The school followed all applicable CIF and school regulations regarding concussions and was not grossly negligent in its actions.
- Landowner Not Required to Warn of Open and Obvious Danger That Was Necessarily Undertaken by Employee to Complete His WorkCase Updates4.22.22
Generally, a property owner is required to warn contractors performing work on their property of dangerous conditions. Where the condition is open and obvious, however, this obligation is no longer required and the property owner will not be liable for any personal injuries or property damage that occur due to the known danger.
- Nurse Convicted in Criminal Proceedings for Medication Mistake Spawns Concern Among Medical ProfessionalsCase Updates4.22.22
In a fear-inspiring decision for medical professionals, a Tennessee jury recently found a nurse from Vanderbilt University Medical Center guilty of reckless homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult patient. Criminal charges were filed against the nurse after she accidentally administered the wrong medication to a patient who later died. This case has wide-ranging implications for health care law and medical professionals across the country.
- Case Updates4.21.22
In a decision released on March 11, 2022, the California Court of Appeal held that Amazon was not immune from liability for failing to provide California Proposition 65 warnings on certain skin-lightening creams sold on its website. In Lee v. Amazon.com, Inc., Court of Appeal Case No. A158275, the Court held that a plaintiff was not required to show that Amazon had actual knowledge of the presence of mercury in the products it sold on its website and the Communications Decency Act did not protect Amazon from liability. The decision may have wide-ranging implications for e-commerce, requiring web retailers to issue warnings to California residents when manufacturers do not.
- Case Updates4.18.22
California Business and Professions Code 7031 is a provision prone to drawn out court battles with confusing fact patterns. In the recent case of Panterra GP, Inc. v. Superior Court, 74 Cal. App. 5th 697, 289 Cal. Rptr. 3d 743 (2022), review filed (Mar. 10, 2022), the justices were persuaded by the conclusion that the application of this section often results in a harsh outcome for many plaintiffs. Given that, they found that a licensed contractor who was not properly named in the contract could have its day in court to seek reformation of the contract to reflect the true intent of the parties.
- Case Updates4.18.22
The Supreme Court answered the Fifth Circuit’s certified question inquiring whether the employee exception in the Texas Anti-Indemnity Act (TAIA) permits additional insured coverage when an employee who was injured on the job site sues the additional insured for his personal injuries. Can the injured employee recover under these circumstances and is he a co-employer of the indemnitor under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act (TWCA)?
- Case Updates4.11.22
Although surety companies are generally not liable for tort damages to a third party, Washington’s legislature has carved out a limited exception for the setting up and sitting of mobile homes. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) establishes a per se violation of the Consumer Protection Act in situations where a bonding company does not perform a reasonable investigation to resolve the claims of third parties who have sustained injuries or other damages as a result of a faulty set-up of a mobile home. However, to access this exception, the injured party must make a claim against the bond by filing a lawsuit in superior court. A surety’s duty to investigate and resolve the claim is not triggered until such suit is filed.
- Plaintiff Suing for Legal Malpractice Excused From Arbitration Costs Where Financially Unable to PayCase Updates4.10.22
A trial court that granted defendant’s motion to compel arbitration has jurisdiction to lift the stay where a plaintiff demonstrates financial inability to pay arbitrations costs. The trial court may then instruct the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s share of costs for arbitration, or agree to waive its right to arbitration.
- Case Updates3.23.22
A plaintiff suing for medical malpractice could not collect payment for her injuries under a settlement agreement, where she had not performed her end of the bargain. Specifically, the failure to execute a “more comprehensive settlement” addressing mutual confidentiality was non-performance by the plaintiff. The mutual confidentiality agreement did not prevent required public disclosures to the Medical Board as plaintiff claimed and it was not otherwise in violation of the Business and Professions Code. In addition, the defendant was not entitled to attorney fees for requests for admissions that went to the heart of the case and then used to demand attorney fees after prevailing on the issue.
- Previously Excluded Wrongful Death Beneficiaries Granted Their Day in Court After Washington Statute is AmendedCase Updates3.10.22
In 2019, the Washington State Legislature amended the wrongful death statute to include certain second tier beneficiaries, including siblings of the deceased. Previously, parents and siblings could only sue for wrongful death in Washington if they were financially dependent on the decedent. With the precedent set by the Washington Supreme Court in Kellogg v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., No. 99724-1, 2022 WL 552605 (Wash. Feb. 24, 2022), it is clear that Washington courts will now allow wrongful death cases to proceed for second tier beneficiaries who are not financially dependent on the decedent. Moreover, claims by second tier beneficiaries which are not yet time-barred may also proceed, even if the death occurred prior to the amendment of the wrongful death statute.
- Case Updates3.7.22
The New York State Supreme Court’s failure to give proper jury instructions regarding the substitution of an alternate juror as well as its failure to require that deliberations resume from the beginning after the alternate juror joined the jury, resulted in an invalid verdict which deprived the defendants of their constitutional and statutory rights.
- Case Updates3.7.22
In the case of Lydia Kaney v. Carol A. Custance, the California Court of Appeal provided great latitude to plaintiffs when it comes creating a triable issue as to causation where the plaintiff lacked any recollection of the incident, or knowledge of what may have caused the incident.
- First-to-File Rule under IFPA Does Bar Subsequent Qui Tam Actions Involving Different Victim Pools or Fraudulent Schemes Against Same DefendantCase Updates3.7.22
The Insurance Fraud Protection Act (IFPA) did not prohibit subsequent qui tam lawsuits against the same defendant doctor when the actions involve different victim pools or schemes of fraudulent activity.