When a Tree Falls, It is Not Necessarily the Tree Owner's Fault

On a particularly hot, dry, windless summer day in Northern California, a massive limb of a stately old oak tree suddenly cracked, split and fell to the ground.  The tree was growing on the property of Neighbor A, but the limb was overhanging and fell onto the property of Neighbor B.  The failed limb sunk about 6 inches into the grass and landscaping of Neighbor B and damaged a concrete patio, gazebo, and a retaining wall among other claimed damages.  Neighbor B submitted the claim to her own insurance company who reimbursed her for her much of her damages.  She then sued Neighbor A claiming further uncompensated damages not covered by her own policy. Her insurance company also filed a subrogation action against Neighbor A for reimbursement.

Jonz Norine defended Neighbor A and proved that this limb separated from the tree because of a phenomenon known as Sudden Limb Drop (sometimes also called Sudden Branch Drop).  This type of failure has been documented in particularly arid regions like Australia, South Africa, and California.  A tree with apparently sound limbs sometimes absorbs so much water from the surrounding landscaping that the lower, larger limbs become overloaded and pressurized to the point of exploding and detaching from the tree. This can even happen to limbs that may have withstood centuries of storms and high winds - why they should fail on a hot, windless day is often a mystery.  With the aid of an expert arborist, Mr. Norine proved that the limb failure was not Neighbor A's fault, upon whose property the tree grew. Instead, he proved that the tree's roots extended on to Neighbor B's property and that Neighbor B had been overwatering her yard to keep it especially green and lush in the summertime.  The excess water had been absorbed by the tree, directly causing the limb above Neighbor B's property to succumb to the excess load. Hence, Neighbor B caused her own damages.  The Court found Neighbor A was not negligent in the management of his tree and dismissed the claim.  

Romeo and Juliet were not injured by truck driver

An 18-year-old's girl's parents did not approve of her relationship with a 16-year-old boy and attempted to separate them by sending her to live with with family in another city.  The loving pair could not stand to be separated.  Unfortunately for them, neither one of them had a vehicle, nor even a license to drive.  What could they do?

Not to be denied, they hatched a plan to rescue the damsel-in-distress.  Boyfriend waited for his mother to go to bed, grabbed her keys, and silently backed the family car out of the driveway shortly after midnight.  A few hours later, he arrived at the his girlfriend's captors' house where he helped her slip out a window and they made their escape.  

On the way back to their home city, at about 4:30 AM, tired, and mostly likely impaired from the bowl of marijuana he had recently smoked, our unlicensed, inexperienced "Romeo" get-away driver attempted to pass a truck-and-trailer combination on a busy freeway in the early morning pre-dawn traffic. Misjudging the distance between the vehicles, he glanced off the truck, spun a few times and came to rest against the center divider in the freeway's fast lane.  Our "Juliet" had her seat leaned back attempting to sleep and did not see what happened.  

Now motionless, in the dark, and in the fast lane of heavy traffic, the disabled vehicle was struck by another who could not avoid them, spinning them around once again.  Miraculously, Romeo was uninjured. Juliet struck her head on something on the inside of the vehicle and may have lost consciousness.  She was so shaken up and disoriented, she did not know what  other injuries she may have suffered.

The CHP officer investigating the accident arrested Romeo for driving without a license and suspicion of driving under the influence of cannabis.  He was later released to his mother.  Juliet was taken by ambulance to a nearby teaching hospital which conducted extensive tests to be sure she did not suffer from any intercranial damage.  She was cleared and allowed to go home to her family.  

Juliet brought a claim against her boyfriend, the truck driver, and the driver who struck the disabled car.  Because of her initial hospitalization and testing, her medical expenses and claimed damages were significant.  After extensive discovery was conducted, boyfriend and the other driver settled with the young woman for their policy limits.  

Jonz Norine, convinced plaintiff to dismiss her case in exchange for a de minimus settlement amount in order to avoid a trial that would likely have resulted in a defense verdict.

 

Walking into gate was plaintiff's own fault

Plaintiff brought a claim for premises liability, alleging that he was injured after striking his forehead on a partially lowered security gate in the cafeteria at Mercy Medical Center Redding. The gate, which comes down from the ceiling, was apparently lowered such that the bottom was resting at approximately the level of plaintiff's forehead. He claimed that he did not see the gate because he was focused on a tray of food he was carrying to the cashier. Plaintiff alleged that as a result of hitting the gate, he recoiled backwards in such a way as to injure his lower back, severely enough to require surgery to attempt to alleviate severe back pain. Mercy demonstrated that plaintiff's striking of the gate was insufficient to cause any observable injury, as documented by nurses in the Emergency Department, where he was taken to be checked out; a Polaroid photograph of plaintiff's forehead, taken at the time, showed no injury or bruising. Plaintiff also had inconsistent accounts of the incident. Medical experts, including a biomechanist, established that plaintiff could not have injured his lower back as a result of the incident, and that he was not a candidate for surgery in any event. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Mercy Medical Center Redding.

Kelly Snowden tried the case on behalf of Mercy Medical Center Redding.

Termination was legitimate and non-discriminatory

Plaintiff was hired as a blood bank technician in Mercy Medical Center Redding's laboratory, focusing on the blood bank aspect of the operation. After several months wherein plaintiff clashed with co-workers and was repeatedly warned about her non-performance of her job issues, she was finally placed on a 90-day performance improvement plan. When plaintiff failed to improve her performance in conformance with the stated expectations of her supervisors, she was terminated. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit, claiming discrimination based on her national origin and retaliation. She alleged that she was treated differently than other employees because she was ethnic Chinese, and had been a Cambodian refugee. She also alleged that she had raised concerns regarding supposed safety violations, including submitting a complaint to outside accrediting agencies. Plaintiff filed her lawsuit in San Francisco County, where trial was held in June 2008. After a nine-day trial, the trial judge dismissed the discrimination claims outright, as well as certain other claims, leaving only the wrongful termination claim for the jury to decide. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Mercy Medical Center Redding, finding that Mercy had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for plaintiff's termination.

Kelly Snowden and Margaret Englehardt Long tried the case on behalf of Mercy Medical Center Redding. Plaintiff appealed the jury's verdict, claiming legal error in the verdict form. The court of appeal upheld the jury's decision. We successfully argued the appeal on behalf of Mercy Medical Center Redding.

Water on floor was not store's fault

Female plaintiff slipped on water that had been spilled by another Costco member who had used water from the drinking fountain to water newly purchased plants, unaware that the water would flow through the planter and drip onto the floor. The plaintiff suffered a knee injury requiring surgery, and which caused her to lose income. Costco demonstrated to the jury that the water was on the floor for only seconds before plaintiff encountered it, and that its employees acted reasonably in responding to the spill. After a hung jury resulted in a mistrial, the jury in the second trial found no negligence against Costco.

Kelly Snowden tried the case both times on behalf of Costco Wholesale Corporation.

Medical procedure did not cause injuries

Female plaintiff alleged medical negligence against a nurse working for Mercy Medical Center. She alleged that the nurse negligently attempted to catheterize her to obtain a urine sample, and that as a result, she sustained severe injuries, including the development of urinary difficulties, a cystocele and rectocele. Mercy presented testimony from experts, as well as from plaintiff's own gynecologist and surgeon, that her medical problems had nothing to do with any attempted catheterization, and also pointed out to the jury that plaintiff had not complained to any medical care provider about any problem with the catheterization. The jury found no medical negligence against the nurse or Mercy Medical Center.

Kelly Snowden tried the case on behalf of Mercy Medical Center Redding.

Injuries claimed from MVA were pre-existing

A family of five sued as a result of a motor vehicle collision, wherein the van they were traveling in was struck by the vehicle driven by a permissive user of defendant's vehicle. While liability was not contested, plaintiffs asserted substantial damages, particularly the mother, who asserted an injury to her cervical spine, requiring spinal surgery. Trial proceeded as to the mother and two oldest children, teenagers at the time of the collision, who claimed to have sustained soft-tissue injuries requiring primarily chiropractic treatment. The mother sought several hundred thousand dollars in damages, primarily relating to the cost of cervical spine surgery undertaken prior to trial. Defendant asserted that the mother's cervical spine condition was pre-existing, and through the use of expert witnesses, was able to demonstrate that with the mother's before-and-after x-rays and other studies. The jury returned a nominal award to plaintiffs, consisting of modest medical expenses incurred during the first few weeks after the collision, but excluding any award for surgery.

Kelly Snowden tried the case on behalf of defendant.

Restroom floor was dry, not slippery as plaintiff claimed

Chiropractor brought claim for premises liability against Redding-area Costco, alleging that he slipped in the men's room on cleaning products or some other kind of spill. Plaintiff suffered injuries requiring surgery and alleged that he lost income and would continue to do so. The jury agreed with Costco that the floor of the men's room was dry at the time and not slippery.

Kelly Snowden tried the case on behalf of Costco Wholesale.