California Appellate Court Holds Plaintiff’s Negligence Claim is Barred by Statute of Limitations
A plaintiff appealed from the judgment entered against her after the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that the two-year statute of limitations had expired. The incident in which the plaintiff was injured occurred in July 2010. She did not name the defendant in her initial complaint. On June 24, 2014, a year after settling with the other defendants, she amended her complaint to identify “Doe 1” as the defendant. She contended that she had no “actual knowledge” of the defendant’s identity or involvement until May 2013, and thus the statute of limitations was tolled under the law of “relation back.” Concluding that the woman did have actual knowledge, the appeals court affirmed the judgment.The plaintiff was a tenant in a building in which she maintained an office. On the morning of July 13, 2010, she was summoned because a burst water pipe had caused flooding in her office. Over a period of about an hour, she, her two sons, the building owners’ “maintenance guy,” and three or four of the defendant’s workers arrived at the building. They all began to move items out of the plaintiff’s office and into an empty office. In the course of doing so, someone moved four or five plastic carpet mats, which allow rolling desk chairs to move freely without damaging the carpet underneath, from the office to a concrete walkway outside the building. She slipped and fell on the wet carpet mats while removing her personal belongings from the office. She injured her back in the fall.
On July 12, 2012, the last day before the two-year statute of limitations expired, the plaintiff filed a complaint alleging negligence, naming the building owners and 50 fictitiously named defendants. On May 31, 2013, she settled her claim with the named defendants. The settlement agreement included a broadly worded release of all claims. On June 24, 2013, nearly a year after the statute of limitations on the action had expired, Tokarsky filed an amendment to her complaint identifying the defendant as the fictitiously named Doe 1.
The defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) the statute of limitations had expired, and (2) it was covered by the plaintiff’s release of all claims. The trial court granted the motion on the basis that the statute of limitations had expired because she failed to establish that she was ignorant of the defendant’s identity and involvement at the time she filed the original complaint.
On appeal, she contended that the defendant failed to sustain its burden of proof that she knew of its identity and its connection to her injury, and thus it was not protected by the statute of limitations. She also argued she should not be barred from recovering from the defendant based on the settlement agreement and release.
The appeals court concluded that the evidence indicated that she knew of the defendant’s identity and its connection to her injury. In support of its motion for summary judgment, the defendant submitted her deposition, taken on February 5, 2013. Tokarsky testified that when the defendant’s employees initially arrived, they helped to move items out of her office. A reasonable person, the court reasoned, would draw from the facts that the defendant’s employees were probably responsible for placing the wet carpet mats on the concrete walkway where she fell.
The defendant’s employees would likely have been the ones to move the mats because this had to be done before they could begin to do the job they had been called in to perform–extract the water from the carpeting. This information was available to her at the time she was injured, rather than, as she claimed, not until May 2013, when she settled with the other defendants. These facts alone, the court reasoned, were sufficient to sustain the defendant’s burden of proof to show that she was aware of both its identity and its possible connection to her injury.
The appeals court concluded that the plaintiff’s declaration testimony indicated she had knowledge of enough facts, by observing them on the day she was injured, to cause her to believe the defendant may have been liable for her injuries. In opposition to the motion, she submitted only the declaration of her attorney relating solely to the settlement agreement and her own deposition testimony. She made no affirmative attempt to establish a triable issue of fact.
For these reasons, the court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.
The slip-and-fall accident lawyers at Neumann Law Group represent victims throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.
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