Alternative Claims for Liability and Your California Auto Accident Case

police car crashPursuing your personal injury case can involve many complex steps. The law allows a variety of techniques for presenting your case. In fact, there may be a point in your case at which you bring forward multiple contentions, some of which may seem to be in conflict with one another. The law allows you to present alternative claims for liability and alternative factual allegations, and, according to a recent California Court of Appeal case, the use of this technique should not be considered to be a “sham” and disallowed.

The accident at the origin of this case was a rear-end collision in Fresno County in August 2012. A vehicle driven by Gerald Galvin allegedly struck a vehicle driven by Shelly Barron. Barron and her husband, who was riding with her at the time of the accident, sued Galvin and his employer, the City of Mendota, for their injuries. The Barrons alleged claims for general negligence, motor vehicle negligence, and negligent entrustment. The city asked the trial court to throw the case out. The Barrons, the city argued, had a procedural problem. The city was a public entity, and Galvin, the chief of police, was a public employee. In this situation, the law required the Barrons to show that they had complied with the requirements of the Government Claims Act (GCA), which they had not.

The injured couple reacted by modifying their complaint. They dropped the city from the case entirely. Additionally, they also dropped their claims based on the assertion that Galvin was acting in his capacity as a public employee when he rear-ended them. The amended case alleged negligence against Galvin alone. Galvin, in turn, asked the court to disallow this reworking of the complaint. The chief argued that the court should view the amended complaint as a “sham” filing and that it should take the Barrons’ accusation from the first complaint — that Galvin was acting in the scope of his employment as police chief at the time of the accident — and impute them into the most recent amended complaint. This would effectively short-circuit the Barrons’ case, since it would again force them to meet all the hurdles of the GCA. The trial court agreed and again threw out the complaint, this time without an opportunity to amend it.

The Barrons appealed, and they were successful. The appeals court noted that trial courts do have certain powers when a plaintiff uses a “sham pleading” that attempts to bypass unfavorable assertions made in an earlier complaint simply by omitting them in an amended complaint. Unless the plaintiff has a sufficient explanation for her actions, the trial judge has the authority to “disregard the inconsistent allegations and read into the amended complaint the allegations of the superseded complaint.”

In this case, though, the Barrons’ amended filing was not a sham. In pursuing your auto accident case, just as in any personal injury action, the law allows you to present alternative factual allegations and alternative claims for liability in the pursuit of your case, dropping certain claims or allegations as you proceed and realize that they are not supportable. In one case cited by the appeals court in this opinion, a medical malpractice victim specifically alleged, in an initial complaint, both that the doctor told other doctors about her breast cancer and that the doctor did NOT tell other doctors about her breast cancer, only to delete one of those assertions in a later, amended complaint. This was not using sham pleadings, the court explained. This was just engaging in the presentation of alternative factual allegations, which is allowed by the law.

That, the court ruled, is what the Barrons were doing in their case. The earlier complaint alleged a claim based on Galvin acting in the scope of his public employment, as well as a claim premised on Galvin’s being outside the scope of his public employment. The “sham pleading doctrine was inapplicable in this case,” the court ruled, which meant that the trial court should not have thrown out the Barrons’ case.

Composing your complaint is an important part of your injury case. Writing this document in a way to maximize your options and your chances at trial can require a detailed knowledge of the facts of your case, as well as the rules of court procedure and the law. The knowledgeable Oakland car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch have the familiarity with the law and the courts to help you put together a compelling case. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Failure to Word Statutory Settlement Offer Properly Costs Defendants in California Motorcycle Accident Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, May 16, 2016

How a Waiver Agreement Can Cost You in Your California Auto Accident Injury Suit, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, March 31, 2016