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California Appeals Court Rules in Personal Injury Case

August 30, 2017


As a San Diego car accident lawyer, it is not uncommon to come across cases that contain what are sometimes known as “hybrid” legal claims. In the case, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident, which is a straightforward personal injury case as far as the types of claims he likely pursued.

However, the person reportedly responsible for causing the accident was driving in the course of his employment, implicating his employer as the responsible party, subject to the legal principle of respondeat superior (L:atin for “let the master answer,” i.e., be held liable for the actions of its agents). Additionally, the plaintiff who was injured in the car accident had already suffered an injury during the course of his employment, for which he was receiving workers’ compensation benefits.

Therefore, the plaintiff sued the driver who was allegedly responsible for the accident and his employer. After the plaintiff reached a settlement with the defendants, the plaintiff’s workers’ compensation administrator intervened in the case, attempting to recover for its alleged financial damages that occurred as a result of the accident. However, following the settlement, the county defendant moved for summary judgment against the workers’ compensation administrator, hereinafter known as GB (an abbreviation of the company’s name), arguing that it did not establish that it was entitled to reimbursement for payment as a result of the accident. The trial court granted the motion, and GB appealed, arguing there were triable issues of fact with regard to whether the car accident caused any part of the plaintiff’s permanent disability.

The plaintiff sustained injuries some 10 months before the car accident when he fell through a ceiling while attempting to install a satellite dish as required by his employment. At the time of the car accident, due to that initial incident, the plaintiff was receiving temporary disability payments. Five months following the car accident, he was determined to be permanently disabled, and his workers’ compensation benefit status thus changed.

On appeal, the court looked at the relevant workers’ compensation statutes and cases to find that employers are entitled to recover damages in cases in which intervening accidents lead to an increase in the benefits that they have to pay claimants. For example, if an accident leads to an otherwise able-bodied individual becoming completely disabled, and thus it results in an increase in monthly benefits, if the evidence supports that the intervening event led to the increase, the employer can recover the difference from the third party that caused the accident and injury to occur.

In this case, however, the court found that GB failed to demonstrate that the accident led to an increase in the compensation that was being paid to the employee. While it was true that the employee had not yet been declared permanently disabled at the time of the accident, GB failed to prove that it was due to the car accident. In fact, the record before the trial court contained statements of the treating doctor explicitly stating his belief that the initial accident, the one that occurred while the employee was working, was the cause of the total disability, and while the employee did receive treatment for injuries following the car accident, those particular injuries eventually became resolved in his opinion.

If GB had paid for the treatment of injuries relating to the car accident, it could have most likely recovered damages for those costs. However, the treating doctor had billed the relevant insurance company directly for that treatment.

At trial, GB had presented two exhibits that appeared to be lists of payments paid in relation to the employee. However, the defendant county objected to the exhibits on the basis that there was a lack of information regarding what they were and what they were trying to assert, and they had not been properly authenticated as required by law. The trial court sustained the objection, thus excluding them from consideration in the case. GB did not object to the ruling at the time. It also did not attempt to cure the issues in order to make the evidence admissible, so, according to the court, it waived its right to challenge the ruling on appeal.

Additionally, on appeal, GB attempted to include new evidence that was not presented to the trial court. The appeals court stated that since the evidence had not been reviewed by the trial court, it could not be heard on appeal, and thus it was excluded from consideration in determining the outcome of the case.

In sum, since the treating doctor attempted to apportion his treatment for injuries sustained as a result of the accident directly to the insurer, GB could not argue that the amount billed related to the car accident caused it to have to incur additional costs. It also did not present evidence that the employee would not have been declared permanently disabled but for the car accident. Thus, the court concluded that GB failed to raise triable issues of material fact demonstrating that the car accident resulted in its incurring additional costs beyond those that were results of the initial industrial accident.

Thus, the court found that the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgement was proper, and it affirmed.

Auto collisions can lead to serious, life-altering injuries. When victims are injured because of the carelessness of another driver, they are usually entitled to compensation for their injuries. If you were injured in a car accident caused by the negligence of another driver, contact the experienced San Diego car accident lawyers at Rubinstein Law Group today to schedule a free consultation.

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