Carachure v. Scott (2021) 70 Cal.App.5th 16

A plaintiff was seriously injured in an auto accident. Her counsel demanded that the defendant and the defendant’s insurance carrier settle the plaintiff’s injury claim by paying the full $15,000 policy limit. The carrier accepted and complied with all the demand’s short-fuse conditions, thereby dashing the plaintiff’s counsel’s hopes to “open up” or “take the lid off” the policy’s limits. That same counsel then reversed course. Asserting that the plaintiff had not authorized him to make the demand, and, again representing the plaintiff, counsel sued the settling defendant for tens of millions of dollars.

The trial court bifurcated the settlement issue and tried it first. In opening statements, the plaintiff’s counsel once again reversed course: He admitted that the plaintiff’s husband and her legal guardian had authorized the $15,000 settlement demand. The trial court granted a defense motion for partial nonsuit on the client-authorization issue. The jury then unanimously determined that the defendant had complied with all of the conditions necessary to accept the settlement offer.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the partial nonsuit was procedurally impermissible and that her counsel’s concession that the offer was authorized did not support a binding settlement. The plaintiff also argued that her guardian ad litem had the right to refuse to seek confirmation of the settlement. In a unanimous published opinion, the Court of Appeal disagreed, and affirmed the judgment for the defendant, GMSR’s client. Largely adopting GMSR’s arguments, the opinion confirms that trial courts can, and should, grant a partial nonsuit where an opening statement unequivocally concedes facts constituting an element of an affirmative defense. The opinion also confirms a trial court’s power to unilaterally approve a settlement agreement where a guardian ad litem refuses to seek court approval.

Court of Appeal Opinion – View Document