(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this car accident case and its proceedings.)
A Triable Issue of Material Fact Exists as to Whether Defendant Hill Acted with Malice, Oppression, and Willful and Conscious Disregard of the Safety of Sean Black.
Summary adjudication to dispose of a plaintiff’s prayer for punitive damages is granted only if the moving party is able to prove that there is no merit to the punitive damages claim. (Code of Civil Procedure §437c(f)(1).) A plaintiff may recover punitive damages in a tort claim if there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice. (Civil Code § 3294(a).) Malice is defined as despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others. (Civ.C. § 3294(c)(1).) Oppression is similarly defined as despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights. (Civ.C. § 3294(c)(2).)
Defendant Hill claims that plaintiffs cannot prove that Hill’s conduct before the violent collision and rollover merits the imposition of punitive damages. Defendant’s motion ignores overwhelming evidence of his own despicable conduct, which directly led to the crash and Sean’s serious injuries. For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.
In the moments before the subject collision, Hill intentionally acted in a number of ways that exponentially raised the risk of a high speed crash and significant harm to Sean Hill. They include:
*repeatedly cutting off Sean;
*shaking his fist while leaning across his front passenger seat;
*doing all of the above while holding a cigarette;
*doing all of the above while traveling at 65 to 70 miles per hour; and
*swerving towards Sean’s vehicle.
Such reprehensible behavior fits the definition for malice, i.e. despicable conduct with a willful and conscious disregard for the safety of others. Any reasonable person would conclude that such conduct is a recipe for disaster, which is exactly what resulted. Defendant’s conduct also constitutes oppression, as it subjected Sean to cruel and unjust hardship, as he sustained painful and permanent neck and back injuries when his SUV rolled over three times, crushing its roof in the process.
Defendant Hill’s motion must be denied because he has not met his burden that plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages cannot be established. Both Sean and Hill provided overwhelming testimony to prove that Hill’s conduct calls for the imposition of punitive damages. The amount of existing evidence reaches the clear and convincing level as there is enough evidence to persuade a trier of fact that it is highly probable that plaintiff’s allegations of despicable conduct are true. (CACI 201.) (See Part 5 of 6.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.