Sacramento Family Seeks Punitive Damages For Hospital’s Malpractice, Part 7 of 9

The following blog entry is written from a defendant’s position as trial approaches. Reviewing this kind of briefing should help potential plaintiffs and clients better understand how parties in personal injury cases present such issues to the court.

It is worth noting that situations similar to those described in this medical malpractice case could just as easily occur at any of the healthcare facilities in the area, such as Kaiser Permanente, U.C. Davis Medical Center, Mercy, Sutter, or any skilled nursing facility.

(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this wrongful death case and its proceedings.)


Since plaintiff has failed to properly plead a dependent adult claim, he must comply with the requirements of C.C.P. §425.13 before alleging a punitive damage claim against a health care provider, and the punitive damages must be stricken until leave of court has been obtained. For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.

But even if plaintiff did not have to comply with § 425.13, the complaint fails to plead facts sufficient to support a punitive damage claim against the Hospital. To recover punitive damages plaintiff must prove an intent to injure or despicable conduct carried out with a willful and conscious disregard of a plaintiff’s safety. Civil Code § 3294. In College Hospital v. Superior Court (1994) 8 Cal. 4th 704, 705, the court characterized the addition of the despicable conduct requirement as a new substantive limitation on the award of punitive damages. Despicable conduct is specifically defined in BAJI 14.72.1 as follows:

“…conduct which is so [vile] [base] [contemptible] [miserable] [wretched] or [loathsome] that it would be looked down upon and despised by ordinary, decent people.”

See also Mock v. Michigan Mutual Ins. Co (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 306, 331. The court in Angie M. v. Superior Court (1995) 37 Cal.App.4th 1217, 1227 recognized that despicable conduct must be pled, and it characterized despicable as a “powerful” term. No such conduct has been alleged here.

Punitive damage claims must also be specifically pled. As the court in G. P. Searle & Co. v. Superior Court (1979) 49 Cal. App. 3d 22, 29 explained:

Notwithstanding relaxed pleading criteria, certain tortious injuries demand firm allegations. Vague, conclusory allegations of fraud or falsity may not be rescued by the rule of liberal construction. (3 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (2d ed.) Pleading, §§ 574, 583-584.) When the plaintiff alleges an intentional wrong, a prayer for exemplary damage may be supported by pleading that the wrong was committed willfully or with a design to injure. (James v. Herbert (1957) 149 Cal.App.2d 741, 750 [309 P.2d 911.) When nondeliberate injury is charged, allegations that the defendant’s conduct was wrongful, willful, wanton, reckless or unlawful do not support a claim for exemplary damages; such allegations do not charge malice. (Cohen v. Groman Mortuary, Inc. (1964) 231 Cal.App.2d 1, 8 [41 Cal.Rptr. 481]; Gombos v. Ashe (1958) 158 Cal.App.2d 517, 526-529 [322 P.2d 933].) When a defendant must produce evidence in defense of an exemplary damage claim; fairness demands that he receive adequate notice of the kind of conduct charged against him. (See Part 8 of 9.)

For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.

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