Personal Injury Cases – Comparative Fault Extends to Negligent Medical Treatment
In a recent case that affects every personal injury attorney, a California appellate court held that the defendant in a premises liability case should be allowed to put on evidence that the plaintiff’s injury was made worse by medical malpractice and that non-economic damages should be apportioned accordingly.
Henry v. Superior Court (2008) 160 Cal. App. 4th 440, held that Civil Code section 1431.2 (Proposition 51) limits an original tortfeasor’s liability for non-economic damages to those directly attributable to his or her own fault. Where a plaintiff is further injured by medical negligence and where the damages can be divided by causation into distinct component parts, liability for each individual component part may be considered separately.
In Henry, a swimming pool contractor suffered an injury to his shoulder when he fell at a homeowner’s property. The contractor sued the homeowner. At trial, the homeowner attempted to put on evidence that the contractor’s injury was aggravated by Kaiser’s medical malpractice. Kaiser was not a defendant. The court preclued the evidence o f Kaiser’s negligence and the defendant homeowner filed a writ of mandate. The court of appeal reversed holding that “the homeowners, if negligent, were solely responsible for the initial injury; liability for the indivisible enhanced or aggravated injury, however, was properly apportioned between them and the hospital’s physicians in accordance with the rules of comparative fault and Civil Code section 1431.2”.
This ruling has implications for every aspect of personal injury practice including case selection, identification of defendants, discovery and trial presentation.