Getting the Most from Your California Premises Liability Case that Requires Both Negotiating Settlements and Litigating at Trial
Sometimes, your premises liability case is straightforward. There was just you and the homeowner who neglected to repair a massive hole in their yard. Many other times, an injury case maybe something that looks like a strategy game, with an array of "players" involved and a huge number of "moving parts" that all have the possibility of affecting the final outcome. Whatever the nature of your case, but especially if yours looks more like the latter scenario than the former example, it pays to make sure you have legal representation from an experienced San Mateo premises liability lawyer.
Take, for example, this serious accident that spawned extensive premises liability
The injured woman was an apartment tenant whose apartment included a deck. Part of the deck was a skylight that was intended to allow natural light into the garage below it. One day, the tenant fell through the skylight and suffered serious injuries as a result.
Investigation into the accident revealed multiple people and entities who may have failed to live up to their obligations to keep the skylight safe. There was the original owner, who was also the man who built and developed the property. There were the subsequent owners, who also were the builder's adult children. There was the LLC (controlled by the builder and the children) that managed the property. There also was a different business entity (controlled by the builder) that had previously served as the property manager.
Based on all these facts, the tenant sued the builder, the current owners (a/k/a the builder’s children), the previous manager, and the current manager. The current owners and the previous property manager agreed to settle the case against them. As part of that settlement, the injured tenant received $2.5 million.
The case against the current property manager and the builder went to trial, where the jury eventually awarded the tenant $2.3 million. Of that sum, the builder owed $756,000, and the manager owed $224,000.
The builder appealed the judgment. The builder argued that the trial court should have credited the full amount of the tenant’s settlement with the other parties. That, of course, would be devastating to the injured woman. The total amount of the pretrial settlement ($2.5 million) exceeded the judgment ($2.3 million,) and a full credit would result in a zero net judgment.
The appeals court, however, ruled against the builder. In doing so, it made a very important ruling in favor of injured plaintiffs.
As an injured plaintiff, you have the option of settling with a defendant or litigating to a judgment. In a case where multiple people and/or entities are potentially liable, you have the option of settling with some and litigating against others.
A Defendants Who Didn't Settle Doesn't Get to Benefit from Your Settlement
As is true in any settlement negotiation, you may be able to obtain a highly favorable result. You may even be able to negotiate a settlement with a defendant in which that defendant agrees to pay more than they likely would have owed had they litigated to the end. Because the defendant entered into that settlement freely, knowingly, and voluntarily, you’re entitled to reap the benefit of that negotiation.
Do you know who is not
entitled to reap the benefit of that favorable settlement result you got? The non-settling defendants. As the court explained it, “non-settling defendants cannot look to [a settlement] payment as resolving, in whole or in part, their proportional shares of those damages.” This is true even if a settling defendant overestimates their percentage of liability and/or the amount of harm you’ve suffered and therefore “overpays” in the settlement.
As a previous appeals court wrote in 1994, if “the settlement was ‘high,’ . . . the plaintiff wins; he or she retains the benefit of the settlement bargain as well as receiving the amounts allocated by the jury to the non-settling defendants. The non-settling defendants… can reap no benefit…; the settlement does not affect their liability for noneconomic damages.”
So, this tenant was entitled to recover both the $2.5 million settlement, as well as the $756,000 and $224,000 jury awards.
All of this illustrates the profound importance of having skillful legal representation that can help you get the most out of settlement or litigation... or sometimes both. Count on the experienced San Mateo premises liability
attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos to be the effective advocate you need. We've helped countless Californians injured in premises liability accidents and we're ready to get to work for you. To set up a free consultation with one of our helpful attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.