Category: Reference Materials

 
 

WASSON & ASSOCIATES, INC

 

DEVELOPING LAW
Issues in California Law

Collateral Source Rule

Case Name: Ingrid Cabrera v E. Rojas Properties, 2011 DJDAR 2961 (February 8, 2011)
Issue: Should a trial court have the discretion to reduce the jury’s award of economic damages for medical expenses incurred by the amount of medical expenses actually paid to the health care provider? In other words, should a plaintiff be limited to the recovery of medical expenses actually paid rather than the amount actually billed?

Holding: Yes. The trial court is permitted to reduce the claim for past medical expenses to the amount actually paid by the plaintiff or her health care insurer.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the Collateral Source Rule precluded any evidence presented during a post-trial hearing on the issues of the reduction of the recovery of economic damages of the amounts the plaintiff’s health insurer actual medical bills paid and thus precluded any reduction of the amount of medical expenses awarded by the jury.

Factual Background: The plaintiff suffered personal injuries arising from a fall on the defendant’s property. The plaintiff sued the landowner and sought to introduce the full amount of the medical bills charged by the medical providers (hospital and doctors). The defendant sought to exclude the amounts of those medical bills above the amounts that were actually paid by the plaintiff’s own health insurance companies. The parties agreed to allow the jury to consider the full amount of the medical bills and to exclude any reference to the amounts actually paid by the health insurance company. The parties agreed that the court should hold a hearing after the trial on the issue of whether the medical expenses awarded by the jury should be reduced to the amount paid by the health insurers.

Jury’s Verdict: The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded the plaintiff $57,534.45 for past medical expenses. During a post-trial hearing the defendant introduced evidence that the plaintiff’s health insurers only paid $8,914.26 of the $57,534.45. This is a substantial reduction in the amount these health care providers billed the plaintiff. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to reduce the medical bills to the amount actually paid by the health insurers and the Second Appellate District, Division Eight affirmed the decision.

Legal Analysis: The plaintiff’s challenge to the trial court’s ruling rests upon the application of the Collateral Source Rule. But the court held that the rate discounted between a health insurer and her provider is not a “collateral benefit” to the plaintiff and thus should not be excluded from evidence. “Under current California law, ‘an injured plaintiff in a tort action cannot recover more than the amount of medical expenses he or she paid or incurred, even if the reasonable value of those services might be a greater sum.” Katiuzhinsky v Perry, 152 Cal.App.4th 1288, 1290 (2007). Therefore, since the plaintiff only “paid” by and through her health care providers a fraction of the total amount of the medical bills, only that which was actually paid should be included as legitimate damages.

Notes: This issue is currently pending before the California Supreme Court.

Liability For The Negligence of Independent Contractors

Case Name: Tverberg v Fillner Construction, Inc. (3-25-11) 2011 DJDAR 4453.

Issue: What types of conditions constitute Affirmative Contribution sufficient to overcome an employer’s immunity under Privette.

Background: As a general rule an employer of an independent contractor is not liable for the tortious acts of that independent contractor. Over the years the courts developed exceptions to this general rule effectively swallowing the rule. One of those exceptions involved the application of the peculiar risk doctrine. Under this doctrine employees of independent contractors hired by an owner of property to perform inherently dangerous work could sue the owner directly for negligence arising from the injuries caused by that inherently dangerous work. However, in Privette v Superior Court, 5 Cal.4th 689 (1993) the California Supreme Court drastically narrowed the application of the peculiar risk doctrine. Under Privette an owner of property who hires an independent contractor to perform inherently dangerous work is not liable when the owner delegates authority to the contractor for the safety of the worksite.

Courts have been limiting the immunity in the holding in Privette. In Tverberg, the First Appellate District held that if the owner retains control over the worksite and acts in a way to affirmatively contribute to the injury the owner may be vicariously liable for the negligent acts of its independent contractors. The court went on to define the scope of the affirmative contributions an employer must commit in order to trigger liability for the negligent acts of its independent contractors.
Facts: Jeffrey Tverberg was an independent contractor hired by a subcontractor working on a construction project. The owner of the property where this construction was being built hired another subcontractor to perform other work near the area of Tverberg’s work. On his first day of the job Tverberg asked the owner’s representative to cover several construction holes created by another subcontractor. The owner’s representative indicated that he did not have the equipment to cover the holes. The next day Tverberg fell into one of these uncovered holes and was injured.

Tyverberg filed a lawsuit against the owner of the property based upon the negligence of the owner’s subcontractor. The owner filed a motion for summary judgment claiming immunity under Privette. Tyverberg responded by asserting that the owner was vicariously liable for the negligence of its subcontractor because the owned had retained control over the safety conditions for the jobsite and took affirmative action to contribute to the injury.

Holding: The property owner can be vicariously liable for negligent acts of its subcontractor if the owner retains control over the jobsite and acts in a manner that affirmative contributes to the plaintiff’s injury.

Analysis: Under Privette v Superior Court the court ruled that though the subcontractor may be held liable for its negligent conduct, the employer (property owner) who delegated the work to the independent contractor is not vicariously liable for those negligent acts. The Tverberg court noted that if an owner of a project hires an independent contractor to perform work but retains control over the safety of the project and also fails to exercise that control in a reasonable manner that affirmatively contributes to the injury, the owner will be held liable for the injuries that result for that affirmative negligent conduct. Kinsman v Unocal Corp., 37 Cal.4th 659, 670 (2005). But the court noted that the merely retention of control of the work site is insufficient to trigger liability. The court noted that the “imposition of tort liability turns on whether the hirer (owner) exercises that retained control in a manner that affirmatively contributed to the injury.” The court went on to note that “affirmative contribution may take the form of actively directing a contractor or an employee about the manner of performance of the construction work.” The court appears to have drawn a distinct line between active and passive conduct. Thus where the owner retains control of the worksite but merely allows an unsafe condition to exist; this is insufficient to trigger liability. Hooker v Department of Transportation 27 Cal.4th 198, 241-15 (2002).

The court ruled that while merely allowing its subcontractor to dig holes in the area near Tyverberg’s work site was passive conduct, “the act of directing that it occur is active participation.” Id. But the court struggled to find that the failure of the owner’s representative to cover the hole after Tyverberg identified the holes and requested that they be covered constituted the type of affirmative conduct necessary to satisfy this requirement.

 
 
 
 

JUDICIAL DISTRICTS

 

LOS ANGELES

The greater Los Angeles area encompasses a large geographic and politically divergent area that any demographic analysis must be broken down to the individual judicial districts or areas within the county.

Central Judicial District
Stanley Mosk Courthouse-Central Judicial District
East Los Angeles Courthouse
Central Civil West Courthouse

North Central Judicial District
Glendale Courthouse
Burbank Courthouse

South Central Judicial District
Compton Courthouse

Northern Judicial District
Michael Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse

Northwest Judicial District
Van Nuys Courthouse

Northeast Judicial District
Alhambra Courthouse
Pasadena Courthouse

North Valley Judicial District
Chatsworth Courthouse
San Fernando Courthouse
Santa Clarita Courthouse

South Judicial District
San Pedro Courthouse
Long Beach Courthouse
Southeast Judicial District
Bellflower Courthouse
Whittier Courthouse
Downey Courthouse
Norwalk Courthouse
Huntington Park Courthouse

Southwest Judicial District
Inglewood Courthouse
Torrance Courthouse
Redondo Beach Courthouse

Eastern Judicial District
Pomona Courthouse
West Covina Courthouse
El Monte Courthouse

West Judicial District
Santa Monica Courthouse
Airport Courthouse
Beverly Hills Courthouse
West Los Angeles Courthouse

 
 
 
 

JURY SERVICE

 

The ultimate decision in civil action is rendered by jurors. A civil jury shall consist of twelve (12) jurors. .” Cal. Code Proc. §220. The first step toward understanding the composition of California juries begins with a basic understanding of the qualifications to serve as jurors.

Basic Qualifications
These are the California qualifications to serve as a juror:

A U.S. citizen
At least 18 years old
You understand English enough to understand and discuss the case
A resident of the county that sent you the jury summons
You have not served on a jury in the last 12 months
You are not currently on a grand jury or on another trial jury
Are not under a conservatorship
You have not been convicted of a felony unless your civil rights were restored by the Court.

Generally, no one is exempt from jury service because of employment, or on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, or economic status. Persons over the age of 70 and have a serious health problems may be excused for jury service. Temporary disability or illness will not excuse or disqualify a person from jury service but may serve as grounds for a postponement of jury service.

Even if a person is qualified to be a juror, the judge may excuse a juror based upon evidence that jury service would constitute an “undue hardship.” There is no uniform standard for defining the circumstances constituting undue hardship. Each judge is largely free to develop individual policies for the courtroom. Generally persons with significant physical or mental impairment, solo proprietors or others who would suffer extreme financial burden from prolonged absence from the business, persons responsible for taking care of another person and there is no one else available to do it.

Juror Pay
California pays jurors $15 every day starting on the second day of service, except employees of governmental entities who receive full pay and benefits from their employers while on jury service. All jurors receive at least 34 cents for each mile they travel to court.

Length of Service
California has adopted a “one-day or one-trial jury service policy”. This means that individuals are not required to come to court for more than one day of jury duty unless they are assigned to a courtroom for jury selection, or serve on a trial more than once every 12 months. Typically if a person has not been chosen for jury selection after one day, their service is deemed fulfilled for at least one year. If a person is selected to serve on a jury, after the trial is over the service also deemed fulfilled for at least a year and often longer.

Protection of Jurors Service on Juries
California law protects jurors against discrimination arising from the jurors’ decision to serve on a jury. California Labor Code, section 230 holds that an employer may not fire or harass an employee who is summoned to serve as a juror.

Jury Selection Process
Individual jurors are selected from a list of citizens within each jurisdictional district. Potential jurors are selected randomly from the voter registration list and the Department of Motor Vehicles’ lists of drivers and identification card holders. These selected individuals make up the jury pool. Jury pools must be comprised of randomly selected individuals. According to California Code of Civil Procedure, section 197, “all persons selected for jury service be selected at random, from a source or sources inclusive of a representative cross section of the population of the area serviced by the court…” As a result, a person may not volunteer for jury service.

Voir Dire
Jury selection is governed by the Trial Jury Selection and Management Act. California Code of Civil Procedure, section 190 et seq. Pursuant to these rules, each party to a civil action has the right to question prospective jurors for bias. In fact the rules provide that judges shall allow attorneys liberal latitude in the scope of the questions asked to prospective jurors. In determining the scope of this questioning the judge shall consider the “unique or complex elements, legal or factual issues in the case and the individual responses or conduct of jurors which may evince attitudes inconsistent with suitability to serve as a fair and impartial juror in the particular case.” Cal. Code Proc. §222.5. However, a judge may restrict counsel from asking questions designed “to precondition the prospective jurors to a particular result, indoctrinate the jury, or question the prospective jurors concerning the pleadings or the applicable law.” Cal. Code Proc. §222.5. But a judge may not “arbitrarily or unreasonably refuse to submit reasonable written questionnaires, the contents of which are determined by the court in its sound discretion, when requested by counsel.” Cal. Code Proc. §222.5.

Before questioning the prospective jurors shall be given the following oath:
Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will
accurately and truthfully answer, under penalty of perjury, all
questions propounded to you concerning your qualifications and
competency to serve as a trial juror in the matter pending before this
court and that failure to do so may subject you to criminal
prosecution. Cal. Code Proc. §323

After the completion of the initial questioning, the attorneys are free to objection to or challenge the panel as a whole or the individual jurors. These challenges usually take two major forms: challenges for cause and preemptory challenges. Challenges for cause are usually based upon the following reasons:

1) Juror is not qualified i.e. not eighteen years old.
2) Juror is implied bias.
3) Juror is actually bias. The existence of a state of mind on the
part of the juror in reference to the case, or to any of the parties,
which will prevent the juror from acting with entire impartiality,
and without prejudice to the substantial rights of any party.

These challenges for cause should be made in the following order:
(a) Objections to the panel in its entirety.
(b) To an individual juror, for a general disqualification.
(c) To an individual juror, for an implied bias.
(d) To an individual juror, for an actual bias.

Challenges for cause may be based upon a jurors’ inability to be fair and impartial. These challenges may be based upon a prospective juror’s (1) “an unqualified opinion or belief as to the merits of the action founded upon knowledge of its material facts…” or (2) enmity or bias in favor or against a party, a party may object. Cal. Code Proc. §§229(e)(f).

In cases involving two parties, each party is permitted six (6) peremptory challenges. In cases involving more than two parties, each side shall be permitted eight (8) peremptory challenges. Cal. Code Proc. §231(c).

After the questioning by the lawyers and the exhaustion of challenges, the jurors will be given the following oath:

Do you and each of you understand and agree that you will well
and truly try the cause now pending before this court, and
try the cause now pending before the court and a true verdict render
according only to the evidence presented to you and to the
instruction of the court. Cal. Code Proc. §232(d)

JURY POOLS
Jurors are selected from a list of citizens of the juridical district the court sits. Potential jurors are selected randomly from the voter registration list and the Department of Motor Vehicles’ lists of drivers and identification card holders. These selected individuals make up the jury pool. Jury pools must be comprised of randomly selected individuals. According the best predictor of the individuals comprising a jury pool is the demographics of the area.

 
 
 
 

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

 

Judicial Districts

Los Angeles County Superior Courts

The following is a list of the Superior Courts located in the Greater Los Angeles County.

Stanley Mosk Courthouse-Central Judicial District
111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Airport Courthouse
11701 S. La Cienega, Los Angeles, CA 90045

Alhambra Courthouse
150 West Commonwealth, Alhambra, CA

Bellflower Courthouse
10025 East Flower Street, Bellflower, CA

Beverly Hills Courthouse
9355 Burton Way, Beverly Hills, CA

Burbank Courthouse
300 East Olive, Burbank, CA 91502

Central Civil West Courthouse
600 South Commonwealth Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90005

Chatsworth Courthouse
9425 Penfield Ave., Chatsworth, CA 91311

Compton Courthouse
200 West Compton Blvd., Compton, CA 90220

Downey Courthouse
7500 East Imperial Highway, Downey, CA 90242

East Los Angeles Courthouse
4848 E. Civic Center Way, Los Angeles, CA 90022

El Monte Courthouse
11234 East Valley Blvd., El Monte, CA 91731

Glendale Courthouse
600 East Broadway, Glendale, CA 91206

Huntington Park Courthouse
6548 Miles Ave., Huntington Park, CA 90255

Inglewood Courthouse
One Regent Street, Inglewood, CA 90301

Long Beach Courthouse
415 West Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90802

Michael Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse
42011 4th Street West, Lancaster, CA 93534

Norwalk Courthouse
12720 Norwalk Blvd., Norwalk, CA 90650

Pasadena Courthouse
300 East Walnut Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101

Pomona Courthouse
350 West Mission Blvd., Pomona, CA 91766

Redondo Beach Courthouse
117 West Torrance Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA 90277

San Fernando Courthouse
900 Third Street, San Fernando, CA 91340

San Pedro Courthouse
505 South Centre Street, San Pedro, CA 90731

Santa Clarita Courthouse
23747 West Valencia Blvd., Santa Clarita, CA 91355

Santa Monica Courthouse
1725 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Torrance Courthouse
825 Maple Ave., Torrance, CA 90503

Van Nuys Courthouse
6230 Sylmar Ave., Van Nuys, CA 91401

West Covina Courthouse
1427 West Covina Parkway, West Covina, CA 91790

West Los Angeles Courthouse
1633 Purdue Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90025

Whittier Courthouse
7339 South Painter Ave., Whittier, CA 90602

Orange County
The following is a list of the Superior Courts located in Orange County.

Santa Ana Courthouse – Central Judicial District
700 Civic Center Drive West Santa Ana, CA 92701

Harbor Courthouse
4601 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach, CA 92660-2595

North Justice Center
1275 North Berkeley Avenue, Fullerton, CA 92832-1258

West Justice Center
8141 13th Street, Westminster, CA 92683-4593

Riverside County
Main Courthouse
4050 Main Street, Riverside, Ca. 92501

Temecula Courthouse
41002 County Center Drive #100, Temecula, Ca. 92591

Banning Courthouse
135 N. Alessandro Road, Banning, Ca. 92220

Blythe Court
265 N. Broadway, Blythe, Ca. 92225

Hemet Courthouse
880 N. State Street, Hemet, Ca. 92543

Larson Justice Center, 46-200 Oasis Street, Indio, Ca. 92201

San Bernardino County
San Bernardino District Civil Division
303 W. Third Street, San Bernardino, Ca. 92415-0302

Rancho Cucamonga District
8303 Haven Avenue, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730

Victorville District
14455 Civic Drive, Victorville, CA 92392A

Barstow District
235 East Mountain View Avenue, Barstow, CA 92311

Big Bear District
477 Summit Blvd. Big Bear Lake, CA 92315

Needles District
1111 Bailey Street, Needles, CA 92363

Joshua Tree Courthouse
6527 White Feather Road Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Ventura County
Ventura Central Judicial Division Hall of Justice
800 South Victoria Avenue, Ventura, California 93009.

San Diego County
The Hall of Justice, Central Judicial District
330 West Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101

Imperial County
El Centro Courthouse, 939 W. Main Street, El Centro 92243