The California Court of Appeals recently ruled that Amazon.com, Inc. (Amazon) can be held strictly liable for injuries caused by a defective product sold by a third-party vender on its website. Bolger v. Amazon, D075738, 2020 Cal. App. LEXIS 761. The decision in Bolger comes just two months after the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas reached the same ruling under Texas law in McMillan v. Amazon.com, Inc., No. 18-CV-2242, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102025 Continue reading
In Hensel Phelps Constr. Co. v. Superior Court, 257 Cal. Rptr. 3d 746 (Cal. Ct. App. 2020), the Court of Appeals of California, Fourth Appellate District, addressed whether a party’s contractual definition of the phrase “substantial completion” controlled the trigger date for California’s construction-related statute of repose, Cal. Civ. Code § 941(a). The Fourth District held that the agreement between the condominium owner and developer for Smart Corner Condominiums and the general contractor, Hensel Phelps Construction Co. (Hensel Phelps) – which determined the date of “substantial completion” for the construction project – did not control when the statute of repose started to run. Continue reading
In City of Oroville v. Superior Court, 446 P.3d 304 (Cal. 2019), the Supreme Court of California considered whether the City of Oroville (City) was liable to a dental practice for inverse condemnation damages associated with a sewer backup. The court held that in order to establish inverse condemnation against a public entity, a property owner must show that an inherent risk in the public improvement was a substantial cause of the damage. Since the dental practice did not have a code-required backwater valve — which would have prevented or minimized this loss — the court found that the city was not liable because the sewage system was not a substantial cause of the loss. This case establishes that a claim for inverse condemnation requires a showing of a substantial causal connection between the public improvement and the property damage. It also suggests that comparative negligence can be a defense to inverse condemnation claims. Continue reading
In Western Heritage Ins. Co. v. Frances Todd, Inc. 2019 Cal. App. Lexis 299, the Court of Appeals of California, First Appellate District, addressed whether a commercial condominium association’s carrier could subrogate against the tenants (aka lessees) of one of its member unit owners. After examining the condominium association’s declarations, as well as the lease terms between the owner and the lessees, the court held that the association’s carrier could not subrogate against the lessees because they were implied co-insureds on the policy. To reach its decision, the court explained that an insurer steps into the shoes of its insured, not the party with whom it is in privity. Although the first-party property portion of the association’s insurance policy did not, as required by the association’s declarations, have the owner listed as an additional named insured, the court held that it would be inequitable to treat the association as the sole insured for purposes of determining Western Heritage’s right to bring a subrogation action. Continue reading
In Travelers Prop. Cas. Co. of Am. v. Engel Insulation, Inc., 29 Cal. App. 5th 830 (2018), the Third District Court of Appeals of California addressed whether a subrogating carrier can assert the rights of its corporate insured while the insured is suspended and thus barred from doing so itself. The court rejected the argument that Cal. Rev & Tax Code § 19719(b) (1998), which exempts subrogating carriers from the penalties for asserting the rights of a suspended corporation set forth in its own subsection (a), eliminated the prohibition against carriers bringing an action based on the subrogation rights of its suspended insured. Because Travelers’ claims were based solely on its derivative rights of subrogation and its corporate insured was suspended, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling that Travelers had no right to bring its suit. The court’s holding reaffirms California case law that denies subrogating carriers any rights greater than those of their insureds. See Truck Ins. Exch. v. Superior Court, 60 Cal. App. 4th 342 (1997). Continue reading
In Kohler Co. v. Superior Court, 29 Cal. App. 5th 55 (2018), the Second District of the Court of Appeal of California considered whether the lower court properly allowed homeowners to bring class action claims under the Right to Repair Act (the Act) against a manufacturer of a plumbing fixture for alleged defects in the product. After an extensive analysis of the language of the Act, the court found that class action claims under the Act are not allowed if the product was completely manufactured offsite. Since the subject fixture was completely manufactured offsite, the Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s decision. The court’s holding establishes that rights and remedies set forth in the Right to Repair Act are not available for class action claims alleging defects in products completely manufactured offsite. Continue reading
In Kim v. Toyota Motor Corp., 6 Cal.5th 21 (Cal. 2018), the Supreme Court of California considered whether the trial court properly allowed the defendant to introduce evidence of industry custom and practice in defense of a strict product liability design defect case. The Supreme Court held that the evidence was relevant and admissible because it was introduced to address the feasibility and cost of alternative product designs, and not to show that the defendant acted reasonably. The court’s holding establishes that, while evidence of industry custom and practice is not admissible to prove or disprove fault in strict liability cases, it is admissible for other purposes, such as analyzing whether a product was defectively designed under the risk-benefit test. Continue reading
In McMillin Albany LLC v. Superior Court, 2018 Cal. LEXIS 211 (Jan. 18, 2018), the Supreme Court of California addressed the question of whether California’s Right to Repair Act (Act), Civ. Code §§ 895-945.5, applies to claims where the plaintiff alleges that construction defects caused property damage. The court held that the Act – which applies to original construction intended to be sold as an individual dwelling unit – supplanted common law negligence and strict liability actions with a statutory claim under the Act. Thus, where the Act applies, the Act provides the exclusive remedy for plaintiffs seeking to recover for property damages arising from construction defects. Continue reading
The California legislature recently enacted legislation – SB 496 – limiting a design professional’s indemnification obligations in private contracts related to design services. The term “design professional” refers to licensed architects, landscape architects and professional land surveyors, and registered professional engineers. As revised, Cal. Civ. Code § 2782.8 states that, for all contracts entered into on or after January 1, 2018 for design professional services, all provisions that purport to have the design professional indemnify the indemnitee for claims against the indemnitee – or require the design professional to provide a defense to the indemnitee – are unenforceable except to the extent that the claims against the indemnitee arise out of, or relate to, the negligence, recklessness or willful misconduct of the design professional. In addition, as revised, § 2782.8 limits a design professional’s liability for the cost of defense to the design professional’s percentage of fault.
The revised statute provides two exceptions. Pursuant to these exceptions, the limitations related to the duty and cost to defend do not apply to: 1) design service contracts where a project-specific general liability policy insures all project participants, including the design professional, and 2) a design professional who is a party to a written design-build, joint venture agreement.
Although this change in the law does not go into effect until January 1, 2018, the change serves as a reminder to subrogation professionals that, when faced with indemnification provisions in design or construction-related contracts, they should check local laws to determine the extent to which subrogating insurers can enforce such provisions.
In Belasco v. Wells, 183 Cal. Rptr.3d 840, 234 Cal. App. 4th 409 (2015), the California Court of Appeals for the Second District addressed the question of whether a homeowner, when settling an administrative complaint against a licensed homebuilder, can release future, unknown claims. Despite the presence of a California statute, Cal. Civ. Code § 1542, stating that a general release does not extend to claims that the releasor does not know about, the court held that the homeowner’s express release of future claims was enforceable. Thus, the homeowner’s release – signed as part of a 2006 settlement of the homeowner’s construction defect claims against the defendant, a homebuilder – barred the homeowner’s 2012 claims against the builder based on latent defects in the roof of the home that the homeowner discovered in 2011.