(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this personal injury case and its proceedings.)
It is worth noting that situations similar to those described in this automobile accident case could just as easily involve any of the healthcare facilities in the area, such as Kaiser Permanente, U.C. Davis Medical Center, Mercy, or Sutter.
PLAINTIFF HAS PLED SUFFICIENT FACTS TO ESTABLISH THAT DR. BLACK’S CONDUCT WAS DESPICABLE AND WITH A WILLFUL AND CONSCIOUS DISREGARD FOR THE SAFETY OF PLAINTIFF
Plaintiff seeks punitive damages against Dr. Black pursuant to Civil Code Section 3294, which states in pertinent part:
(a) In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.
(c)(1) Malice means conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.
(c)(2) Oppression means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights. For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.
As established above, under California’s notice pleading requirement, plaintiff only has to plead ultimate facts sufficient to apprise defendant of the basis upon which plaintiff is seeking relief. Here, Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that Dr. Black’s actions fit within the meaning of C.C. § 3294. In unambiguous language, plaintiff has described Dr. Black’s actions in paragraphs 14, 15, 29-32, 37-39 and 42 of the First Amended Complaint that amount to malice and oppression, i.e., despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.
As the Court stated in Dyna-Med, Inc. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1379, 1392, … the award of exemplary damages [is given] only when the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice. Plaintiff’s allegations against Dr. Black support an award in favor of plaintiff for exemplary damages.
Further, the case law cited by Dr. Black does not support her argument that negligence or recklessness is insufficient to warrant punitive damages. Defendant’s citation, to Tomaselli v. Transamerica Ins. Co., (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 1269 actually supports plaintiff’s claim. The Tomaselli court held that punitive damages are appropriate if the defendant’s acts are reprehensible, fraudulent or in blatant violation of law or policy. Id. at 1287. In this case, Dr. Black’s actions of driving while asleep, when she knew or should have known of the dangerous probability of causing a motor vehicle accident, were reprehensible. Dr. Black knew she was fatigued. She was trained to avoid driving while fatigued. She likely dozed off while driving before falling asleep – yet she continued to drive the trip from Central Hospital to her home. Dr. Black also blatantly violated multiple motor vehicle safety codes and a regulation prohibiting the operation of a vehicle while the driver’s alertness is impaired by fatigue. See 13 C.C.R. 1214. Dr. Black should not have operated the motor vehicle under the conditions, and her decision to do constitutes malice and oppression. (See Part 8 of 11.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.