Top Ten California Cases Every New Plaintiff Personal Injury Lawyer Must Know

These ten cases provide a good framework for lawyers new to the plaintiff personal injury practice.  The holdings from these cases are frequently applicable to almost every personal injury case.  They deal with a plaintiff’s burden of proof of injury, discovery traps, medical bill recovery, policy limits demands, accident reconstruction, and fee splitting arrangements among lawyers.  It is important for every new plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer to have a solid understanding of the legal principles outlined in these ten California cases.  They are listed in order of their importance to the new practitioner.

1.  Schreiber v. Estate of Kiser (1999) 22 Cal. 4th 31

Schreiber v. Estate of Kiser (1999)  explains the differences between a retained and non-retained expert witness and how that impacts the requirements of the expert witness disclosure statute, C.C.P. section 2034.210 et seq.

2.  Archdale v. American Intern. Specialty Lines Ins. Co. (2007) 154 Cal. App. 4th 449

Archdale v. American Intern. Specialty Lines Ins. Co. (2007) has good explanation of a policy limits demand scenario.  An insurance company’s failure to accept a reasonable settlement offer to resolve a third party claim against its insured constituted a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

3.  Espinosa v. Little Co. of Mary Hospital (1995) 31 Cal. App. 4th 1304

Espinosa v. Little Co. of Mary Hospital (1995) explains plaintiff’s burden of apportioning damages when there are multiple causes of an injury.  It is only necessary that a plaintiff demonstrate that the negligence of the defendant was a substantial factor in causing the claimed injury.

4.  DaFonte v. Up-Right, Inc (1992) 2 Cal. 4th 593, 828 P.2d 140

DaFonte v. Up-Right, Inc (1992) explains how employer fault effects a personal injury claimants recovery in tort.

5.  Union Bank v. Superior Court (1995) 31 Cal. App. 4th 573

Union Bank v. Superior Court (1995) explains the effect of factually devoid interrogatory answers on the opposition to a motion for summary adjudication.

6.  Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc. (2011) 52 Cal. 4th 541, 555

Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc. (2011)  describes the limitations on recovery of medical bills when providers accept payment with a discount from health insurance companies.

7.  Mitchell v. Gonzales (1991) 54 Cal. 3d 1041

Mitchell v. Gonzales (1991) explains the legal rationale for the substantial factor test for injury causation used in CACI 430.

8.  Deeter v. Angus, 179 Cal. App. 3d 241, 255, 224 Cal. Rptr. 801 (1986)

Deeter v. Angus (1986) is a good case to read before you provides written discovery responses.  If the result is unfair surprise, a trial court may exclude evidence not identified in discovery.

9.  Solis v. Southern California Rapid Transit District (1980) 105 Cal. App. 3d 382

Solis v. Southern California Rapid Transit District (1980) analyses the work of an expert witness in a bus versus pedestrian case.  The court provides a framework for understanding the basics of how to exclude a accident reconstruction opinion that is speculative or lacks adequate factual foundation.

10.  Chambers v. Kay (2002) 29 Cal 4th 142

Chambers v. Kay (2002) explains California Rule of Professional Conduct 2-200’s requirement of written client consent to splits fees between lawyers.
After reading these ten cases, you will have a good foundation for beginning to understand the landscape of plaintiff’s personal injury litigation.  You will have a good introduction to the importance of making a valid policy limits demand, common discovery traps, all the way through to plaintiff’s burden of proof at trial.


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In his 20 years of law practice, Al has handled more than 40 jury trials. This experience, combined with a commitment to ethics and integrity, has earned Al an excellent reputation throughout the San Francisco Bay Area legal community. He is the recipient of Martindale-Hubbell‘s “AV” peer rating, which signifies preeminent legal ability and ethical standards, and has been named a Northern California Super Lawyer every year since 2006. In 2009, Al was awarded the prestigious 2009 Civil Justice Award by the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, given to attorneys who show integrity, grit, tenacity, ethics, and great advocacy skills, and who contribute to the betterment of consumers and/or injured victims and their families.


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