Inzunza et al. v. Naranjo et al. (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 736

In a wrongful death case, the decedent’s family sued GMSR’s truck-driver client and his employer for negligence.  Before trial, the truck driver disappeared.  When plaintiffs served requests for admissions (RFAs) on the driver regarding liability and he failed to answer, plaintiffs successfully moved the trial court to have the RFAs deemed admitted.  This ruling effectively removed the issues of negligence and causation from the case.

Plaintiffs then moved in limine to exclude all evidence or argument contrary to the liability admissions—both as to the driver and his employer.  The trial court granted the motion.  At trial, plaintiffs read the deemed admissions to the jury.  The jury returned a verdict in plaintiffs’ favor.  The trial court entered judgment against the driver and his employer for a total of $7.619 million in damages.

On appeal, the employer argued that the trial court erroneously imputed the driver’s deemed liability admissions to the employer—who had responded to and denied the RFAs—and erroneously prohibited the employer from contesting liability and comparative fault.  GMSR raised multiple arguments as to why the trial court erred in entering judgment against the driver.  GMSR also urged that if the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for a new trial against the employer then it must also reverse the judgment against driver, pending the outcome of any retrial against the employer.  Since the employer’s liability, if any, was vicariously tied to the driver’s, it would be unfair not to allow the driver to benefit from any facts the employer can prove or disprove in a retrial.

In a published decision, the Second Appellate District, Division Four, reversed the judgment against the employer and remanded the matter for a new trial.  The Court of Appeal concluded that an agent’s deemed admissions do not bind the principal codefendant, even when the basis for the action against the principal codefendant is vicarious liability arising from the acts of the agent.  The court set aside the judgment against the truck driver pending the outcome of the new trial against the employer, as GMSR requested.

To read the Court of Appeal Opinion, click HERE.

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