California Case Law Highlights: Week of May 2

By May 3, 2011 January 9th, 2018 Case Of The Week

Varshock v. California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection:

In a case considering California’s Tort Claims Act, the California Court of Appeals held that the Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection is not liable for the deaths of multiple private citizens after it instructed them to seek protection inside a fire truck as it fought wild fires. The residents of the nearby neighborhood followed the department’s guidelines and rushed to the truck for safety. Unfortunately, the wildfires consumed the truck after multiple attempts to restart the vehicle. Its engined had fatally failed leaving the inhabitants of the vehicle engulfed in wildfires, meeting their ultimate demise.

This case hinged on the well-settled notion that governmental bodies are not responsible for harm or injuries in tort as a result of actions taken while on the job. California also recognizes an exception to this rule in where a fire fighter is not immune from tortious liability in a situation where he is operating a motor vehicle from the scene of a fire to another location. Survivors of those killed in the fire truck contended that the situation feel squarely within the motor vehicle exception to the immunity rule. The California Court of Appeals held otherwise opining that the truck never left the scene of the accident and was engaged in firefighting activities the entire time.

Garcia v. Becker Bros. Steel Co.

The California Court of Appeals held that an occasional seller of defective steel-cutting equipment did not owe a duty to a downstream employee injured by the product. In this case, the respondent received multiple notices of defects with respect to its steel-cutting equipment which is sold occasionally to construction outfits. The manufacturer reported sending notices of a defective recoiler and notice of another employee losing a finger due to the defect. The seller had knowledge of the likelihood of injury but did not inform any of its buyers of the defects.

The court held that respondent’s summary judgment motion at trial was proper because the regulations with respect to the recoiler had been in effect for nearly 30 years at the time of the injury, thus placing the employer on notice that the defect was present.