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rifle-with-smoke-200x300Regardless of one’s personal beliefs about firearms, no one disputes the power and energy in a fired bullet. When a human is struck by a fired round, the consequences can be catastrophic. When someone injures another person by shooting them unlawfully, the criminal justice system can mete out appropriate punishment, but punishment alone does not make the victim whole. Moreover, where an individual is shot by accident, the criminal justice system many not engage judicial process at all.

Whether intentional or accidental, those suffering gunshot wounds may need to turn to a civil lawsuit in order to obtain compensation. However, questions remain about what legal theories are available and who can be held responsible?

If someone intentionally shoots another person, or if the shooter acts with reckless disregard for the safety of others when discharging a firearm, it can be a crime—except under certain circumstances, such as justified self-defense. A judge will typically order an individual convicted of unlawfully shooting pay restitution, together with the prescribed incarceration and fines. However, restitution may be limited to medical bills and other economic loss without taking pain and suffering into account. Under these circumstances, a civil lawsuit for the same shooting may be necessary to be fully compensated.

Prison-inside-empty-300x199The rates of childhood sexual assault are staggering. One in every five women under the age of 18 have been the victim of a sexual assault. The rate is lower, but still unimaginably high for boys: one out of twenty. The state legislature is finally catching up with changing social norms and cultural developments surrounding sexual assault. Until the recent passing of California Assembly Bill 218, many perpetrators of sexual assault hid behind the years of silence imposed on their victims through fear, embarrassment, disbelief, and intimidation. Now, however, the laws surrounding sexual assault are changing, allowing child victims that did not bring claims in the previously prescribed 8-year window to seek justice in a civil court until he or she reaches the age of 40. In this regard, California follows New York, New Jersey, and several other states enacting similar legislation.

            Individuals who were victimized and are still within the former statute of limitations period will be able to bring a claim up and until the day before they turn 40 years old. Individuals for which the statute of limitations has already run will be granted a 3-year window to file a lawsuit. For those individuals, claims that were already time-barred will be able to file their claim anytime between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2022.

The new law also includes a provision that drew heavy opposition, and a deluge of lobbying dollars, from the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, and the California public school system. Where a survivor of sexual assault can show that an organization covered up previous sexual assaults, and the survivor was subsequently assaulted—making the coverup its cause—the survivor can recover treble damages. The most publicized examples of such behavior regard the Catholic church, where leaders were aware of predatory clergy, but purposefully and systematically covered up the assaults and allowed the predators to have continued access to children. Some 800 lawsuits were filed in the weeks following the opening of the revival window. Between June 2017 and June 2018, prior to enactment of the law, the Catholic Church is estimated to have paid $301.6 million nationwide in relation to sexual abuse claims. That massive figure is poised to grow exponentially as more adults seek compensation for decades old sexual assaults.

road-man-broken-car-6078-300x200Buying a car is typically a stressful, yet exciting experience for most people. That sense of excitement can quickly turn to frustration when the vehicle purchased begins having mechanical trouble. Frustration can devolve into anger when the dealer repeatedly makes ineffective repairs, sometimes delaying action or denying responsibility all together.

Each state and the federal government have enacted “lemon laws” to provide redress where a purchaser is saddled with a vehicle that doesn’t meet quality and performance standards. Unfortunately, not all situations are covered by a lemon law; moreover, every state’s, as well as the federal, version of the law is different.

Generally, lemon laws protect purchasers of new motor vehicles from defects or conditions that substantially impair the value of the vehicle and where the manufacturer has failed to resolve the problem after been given a reasonable opportunity to perform repairs. However, various jurisdictions define “new motor vehicles,” “substantial impairment,” and “reasonable opportunity to repair” in a number of ways. There are also a number of variations in the scope and breadth of relief available.

Vaping-Cloud-300x225In December of 2018, Altria, manufacturer of Marlboro products and one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, made a risky play and took a 35% interest in the vaping company Juul Labs at a cost of $12.8 billion. Over its three years of existence, Juul had climbed its way to become the dominant e-cigarette company, claiming 75% of the quickly emerging market.

On October 31, 2019, Altria cut the book value of its investment by $4.5 billion amid growing concerns about the safety of vaping. Governmental agencies have initiated investigations into several areas, including rampant use of vaping products by teenagers, concerns about health risks unique to vaping, and a string of deaths that some are attributing to vaping products. Juul has also found itself defending against several lawsuits, which are likely the opening salvo in a barrage of similar suits.

One lawsuit is a claim of whistleblower retaliation. Siddharth Breja, Juul’s former vice president of global finance, alleged the company had shipped over one million contaminated mint e-liquid pods to retailers. Breja alleges executive management refused to issue a recall despite his urging.

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Jean Faucett

Many California car accidents are primarily caused by the negligence of one motorist. However, it is very common in accidents involving multiple defendants, for responsibility to rest with several parties. Under California car accident law, anyone injured in an accident can pursue a claim against any other party they believe to be responsible for their injuries, even if the accident victim is partially at fault. This is referred to as comparative negligence.

States across the country vary in how they determine which accident victims can recover for their injuries. Below are the most common types of laws:

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A California personal injury case is about more than proving that the defendant was negligent and that their negligence was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. A plaintiff must also prove that they are entitled to financial compensation for the injuries they sustained. Some types of damages are easy to calculate because they have already been incurred, such as past medical expenses. However, future damages are harder to estimate.

Future damages are those that are designed to compensate a plaintiff for expenses or losses that will result from the defendant’s negligence but have not yet been incurred. Typically, these types of damages include future medical expenses, future lost wages, and future pain and suffering. Not only can the future value of these damages be difficult to ascertain, there can also be an issue when attempting to determining the present value of a damages award.

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A California appellate court recently decided a case where the plaintiffs requested a negligence per se instruction after a driver crashed into the defendant who had stopped to the side of the highway. The semi-truck was parked in a zone between the highway and the exit ramp, known as the gore point, when the driver drove his car into the back of a truck. The driver and his wife sued the truck driver and his employer.

At trial, the court instructed the jury that it could find the defendant negligent per se for parking in the gore point under section 21718 of California’s Vehicle Code. It also instructed the jury that it could find the plaintiff negligent per se for driving into the gore point under section 21651 of the Vehicle Code. However, the court declined to instruct the jury, as the plaintiffs requested, that the defendant could be found negligent per se for driving into the gore point to park his vehicle under section 21651. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury decided that the defendant was not negligent for parking in the gore point, and the court entered judgment for the defendant.

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A California appeals court recently dismissed a personal injury case against several defendants after an independent contractor was injured at a work site. The plaintiff was working as an independent contractor that was providing maintenance engineering staff for a company that was undergoing a renovation of a water cooling tower on its premises. While on his shift, the plaintiff checked on the water level of a cooling tower by looking over the water cooling tower wall. He used a partial extension ladder which was left leaning against the tower by a subcontractor. The ladder slipped, causing the plaintiff to fall and sustain serious injuries. The plaintiff sued the landowner, the main contractor for the project, and other defendants, alleging they were liable for his injuries due to the unsafe conditions. The defendants claimed they were immune from suit because the worker was an employee of an independent contractor.

In a previous case, Privette v. Superior Court, California’s Supreme Court held that if an employee of an independent contractor hired to do dangerous work suffers an injury at work, the employee cannot recover compensation from the party that retained the independent contractor. However, there are certain exceptions to the general rule. One is if the party that hired the contractor retains control over safety conditions on the premises, negligently maintains those conditions, and affirmatively contributes to the employee’s injuries. Another exception is if the party that hired the independent contractor 1.) knew of a “latent or concealed preexisting hazardous condition” on the property, 2.) the contractor did not know of the condition and could not have reasonably discovered it, and 3.) the landowner did not warn the contractor about the hazardous condition.

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In a recent personal injury case before a California appeals court, the court considered whether the firefighter’s rule applied in a case involving the plaintiff’s fall at an architectural residence. The plaintiff was hired as a site representative for the defendant’s residence. A third party rented out the residence for an event. The plaintiff was giving a tour of the residence when he fell from a platform that was suspended over a hillside. He filed claims against the defendant property owner for negligence and premises liability. At trial, the property owner argued that he was protected under the “firefighter’s rule.” The court decided that the rule applied and instructed the jury accordingly, which found in the property owner’s favor. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the firefighter’s rule did not apply in this case.

The doctrine of primary assumption of risk holds that, due to the nature of the activity involved and the parties’ relationship to the activity, the defendant does not owe the plaintiff a duty of care, thereby barring the plaintiff’s claims. The firefighter’s rule is a variation of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. The firefighter’s rule holds that a firefighter cannot hold liable members of the public who negligently started a fire. The rule also applies to police officers. The idea is that members of these professions knowingly undertake certain risks. The rule is applied to cases where the risk of injury is inherent in the plaintiff’s occupation, and the plaintiff is injured as a result of that inherent risk.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case discussing whether the plaintiff was entitled to a new trial based on juror misconduct when a juror failed to disclose that he had been named in two prior lawsuits as a defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that there was no misconduct, dismissing the plaintiff’s appeal.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was rear-ended by the defendant and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. The defendant conceded liability, but disputed the causation, nature, and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. Thus, the trial proceeded only on the issue of damages.

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