SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - The question of whether a property owner and business lessee are “affiliated” has been decided by California's 3rd District Court of Appeal in a case involving severe personal injuries.

Muhammad Iqbal v. Imran Ziadeh was appealed from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Joaquin County.

The appeals court reversed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment, noting in its opinion that the trial court ruled the complaint was barred "by a general release plaintiff had previously executed that immunized 'affiliates' of the defendants in the former case and defendant Imran Ziadeh was such an affiliate."

"We conclude as a matter of law defendant was not a protected 'affiliate,' as that term is commonly understood," the appeals court wrote.

Iqbal sued Yosemite Auto Sales Inc. in 2011 for personal injuries. Yosemite’s owner Eyad Kaid and Alla Abuziadeh, individually and doing business as Jimmy’s Tow, also were sued. The plaintiff had been hired by Yosemite Auto to determine why one of its cars wouldn’t start.

Iqbal alleged Yosemite Auto retained him to determine why a vehicle it owned would not start, but when he went underneath the car to test the electrical connection, the car rolled over him and dragged him around the parking lot, injuring his spine. Iqbal didn’t know that Abuziadeh had disconnected the transmission shift linkage but failed to reconnect it after the car was towed.

After reaching a settlement with Kaid and Abuziadeh for policy limits of $1 million, that action was dismissed with prejudice. The release contained this critical information, as the appeals court noted in its opinion: “'including, without limitation, any and all known or unknown claims....’" Also of significance, the release included within its scope "the former defendants’ ‘affiliates’ and ‘all other persons, firms, or corporations, with whom any of the former have been, are now or may hereafter be affiliated.’”

Three months after the release was signed, in 2012, Iqbal brought this lawsuit, naming Ziadeh as the defendant. Zaideh owned the land and leased it to Kaid and Yosemite Auto.

A motion for summary judgment was filed by Ziadeh claiming he was an “affiliate” as noted in the release that Iqbal had signed with Kaid and Abuziadeh. The only evidence submitted to prove it was a declaration by defendant’s counsel, who also represented Yosemite Auto in the first action.

According to the appeals court’s order, “Counsel stated he intended the release in the first action’s settlement agreement to be a general release applicable to all persons, known and unknown, who were associated in any manner with the accident, including defendant.”

The plaintiff argued, in response, that the language in the release was ambiguous and there were genuine issues of material fact to be decided. The relationship between Ziadeh and Yosemite Auto had never been disclosed in the first action, he also argued.

The lower court agreed and granted summary judgment, stating that because Yosemite leased the property to the original defendants and consigned the vehicles, the language of the release and the word “affiliate” applied in that situation.

The appeals court disagreed, stating in its order: “Defendant was not an affiliate of the former defendants for purposes of the release agreement, and thus summary judgment should not have been granted in his favor.”

Sodhi Law Group, Jakrun S. Sodhi and Ameet S. Birring; Arata, Swingle, Sodhi & Van Egmond, Bradley J. Swingle and Colleen F. Van Egmond were the attorneys for Iqbal.

Hayes, Scott, Bonino, Ellingson & McLay; Mark G. Bonino; Stephen P. Ellingson; Dara M. Tang; Tara S. Nayak; and Gregory J. Goodwin appeared for Ziadeh.

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California 3rd District Court of Appeal
914 Capitol Mall
Sacramento, CA 95814

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