Bennett & Sciacca Obtain Summary Judgment in Sonoma County Slip and Fall

Partners Rob Bennett and John Sciacca were recently successful in a Sonoma County lawsuit following an alleged slip and fall in Petaluma on November 9, 2018. John and Rob represented a local business owner who was sued by a visitor to his property. In discovery, plaintiff alleged she came to the defendant’s property to visit a friend and fell after exiting her car and walking a short distance in the defendant’s parking lot. She alleged defendant’s parking lot was in disrepair and that she had fallen as a result of broken pavement and a depression that was eroded into the pavement. As a result of the fall, plaintiff’s main injuries were to her left knee and right hand. In addition, following a failed surgery on her right hand, several of plaintiff’s medical providers diagnosed reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome. Finally, plaintiff alleged that as a result of the fall, she had been unable to work and was unable to return.

In July, 2020, Rob filed defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that the alleged defect was trivial and therefore the defendant had no obligation to repair. The Trivial Defect Doctrine establishes that an individual is not liable for walkway defects that would not ordinarily cause injury when used with normal care. Rob argued the alleged defect would not cause injury when used with ordinary care. In opposition, the plaintiff submitted significant evidence that the defect was not trivial including testimony from witnesses who described the parking lot as “crumbling” and “falling apart.”

In its tentative ruling the court initially denied defendant’s motion. In the initial ruling the court relied heavily upon the factual allegations made by the plaintiff in opposition, detailing significant agreement with the plaintiff’s presentation of evidence. While overcoming a tentative ruling which relies primarily upon facts is typically difficult, Rob requested oral argument. At the hearing Rob focused on the specific defect being alleged by the plaintiff as having caused her fall, making sure the application of the Trivial Defect Doctrine was correct. While it is rare for a party to be successful in having the court change it’s initial ruling, the court in fact reversed the tentative ruling, agreed with Rob and granted the motion, ordering judgment for the defendants. As a result of the judgment, the client was able to regain some of it’s litigation costs.

Rob and John have been with the firm for over a decade. Both specialize in cases alleging complex liability and damages. John can be reached at (916) 540 – 7631 and Rob at (916) 666 – 7776.

Bennett Obtains Dismissal in Truckee Snow Fall Case

Recently, partner Rob Bennett was successful in obtaining summary judgment in a Nevada County case. Rob represented a local homeowner in Truckee, California, who hired two men to remove snow off his second story roof in February, 2017. The men represented themselves out to be general contractors and had performed several jobs for Rob’s client previously. In the bid to secure the work, Rob’s client showed the contractors the location on his roof to remove the snow. In completing the work, the defendant had no input into how the job was completed. While removing the snow, a large piece shed off the roof, striking one of the plaintiffs and pushing him off to the ground two stories below. The second plaintiff was also struck and fell against the railing of the second floor balcony. As a result of the fall, the plaintiffs sustained serious injuries including one who suffered a compression fracture to his lumbar spine.

The contractors sued Rob’s client, alleging he failed to take proper precautions to protect the workers. Plaintiffs further alleged the roof was a dangerous condition. In discovery Rob secured significant factual admissions including agreement that both men were independent contractors as well as awareness by both of the dangers inherent in the work being performed. Rob then filed for summary judgment on behalf of his client asserting the plaintiff’s independent contractor status shielded his client from liability. Further, he argued there were no facts to confirm defendant contributed to cause the accident or failed to act, negating duty. Following briefing by the parties and oral argument, the court agreed, granting summary judgment and dismissing the lawsuit.

Prior to the litigation, the plaintiffs demanded $1,000,000 to resolve the case. By securing summary judgment Rob was able to not only vindicate his client’s conduct but he was also able to avoid the expensive work of defense at trial.

Rob has been with the firm for over 11 years and can be reached via phone at (916) 666 – 7776 or email at rfb@powersmiller.com.

Turville Secures Dismissal

Associate Taylor Turville recently secured a dismissal for her clients in a lawsuit pending in Yolo County for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of Civil Rights. In the case, plaintiff alleged that Ms. Turville’s clients reported violations of city abatement laws on Plaintiff’s property and in doing so, violated the Plaintiff’s civil rights.  Plaintiff alleged the reporting defamed him and caused intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff’s Complaint sought compensatory damages totaling $4.3 million.

Ms. Turville filed a special motion to strike to Plaintiff’s Complaint, otherwise known as an anti-SLAPP motion, arguing that her clients’ conduct of reporting Plaintiff’s many city abatement and code violations were protected activities and a matter of public interest as defined in the California anti-SLAPP statue. Plaintiff attempted to introduce new evidence in his opposition brief that he felt bolstered his claim and attempted to argue that Plaintiff’s activity was not protected or a matter of public interest. In Ms. Turville’s reply, she objected to all the exhibits Plaintiff introduced in his opposition on the grounds of admissibility and hearsay as well as reiterated that her clients’ activity was indeed protected activity and a matter of public interest.

At oral argument, Plaintiff argued that his evidence should be admitted, and that the anti-SLAPP statute did not apply to his causes of action as they were a mix of federal and state causes of action. Ms. Turville argued her objections were proper and, under case law, federal civil rights claims that are brought in California state courts are subject to anti-SLAPP motions.

Ms. Turville’s objections to the Plaintiff’s evidence produced in his opposition were sustained. Further, her special motion to strike was granted as the judge ruled that the defense had shown Plaintiff’s complaint arose out of protected activity and Plaintiff failed to show a probability of prevailing on the merits. The court also ruled plaintiff’s federal causes of action were also subject to the special motion to strike.  As a result, the plaintiff’s Complaint was dismissed.  

Based on the successful ruling, the defendants’ attorney’s fees and costs in the amount of $3,207.50 were also awarded.  Congratulations to Taylor and her clients.

Schaefers Successful in Dismissing Wrongful Death Case

Photo of James Schaefers

This Stanislaus Superior Court matter arose following a motor vehicle collision that resulted in the death of both drivers, and significant injuries to a passenger.   In this case, James represented the brother and sister-in-law of the deceased defendant who was killed in the accident. During the collision, a husband and wife were driving home when the deceased defendant, coming from the opposite direction of travel, crossed over the center divide resulting in a head on collision.  In the subsequent wrongful death action the plaintiffs’ contended that the deceased defendant intentionally crossed the center divide based upon communications obtained via her cell phone. Plaintiffs further alleged that a special relationship existed between the deceased defendant and James’ clients – her family – that imposed a legal duty that required them to prevent the deceased defendant from driving or causing harm.   

After completing significant discovery, James Schaefers filed a motion for summary judgment on behalf of his clients. In the motion James asserted a special relationship did not exist between the family and the decedent defendant sufficient to support that the family had a legal duty.  After opposition and oral arguments by the parties, the Court agreed that the plaintiffs could not establish that there was a special relationship, imposing a duty of the family of the deceased defense to stop her from causing any harm.

As a result of the motion, James’ clients were dismissed from the case and were able to recover their costs of defense to date. This saved his clients from significant exposure, while also personally vindicating their conduct.