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Summary judgment reversed in wrongful death case over California dairy worker's death

Lawsuits

By Sandra Lane | Aug 6, 2018


FRESNO, Calif.  (Legal Newsline) – The Fifth Appellate District of the Court of Appeals in California has ordered a trial court to vacate a summary judgment order in a wrongful death case and remanded it for further proceedings.

The appellate court reversed the decision of the Superior Court of Fresno County on July 30 concerning a suit filed by Oscar and Laura Peredia against HR Mobile Service Inc. over the death of their son, Oscar Peredia Jr., who was struck and killed by a tractor while working at a dairy.   

As stated in the opinion, the lower court had granted summary judgment to HR Mobile, a safety consultant, on grounds that the consultant “owed no duty of care to the employees because the consultant’s allegedly negligent omissions were not affirmative misfeasance and, therefore, were not acts wrongful in their nature.”  

“We interpret the phrase ‘wrongful in their nature’ as encompassing conduct that is tortious—that is, a civil wrong. Consequently, if plaintiffs are able to prove all of the elements of their negligent undertaking cause of action, they will have established the consultant’s acts constituted a tort and, thus, were ‘wrongful in their nature,’” Judge Donald R. Franson wrote in the opinion.

The court also said there are "triable issues of material fact" relating to causation and negligence.

According to the opinion, Oscar Peredia Jr. was 19 on Sept. 20, 2012, when he was killed while working at the Double Diamond Dairy. The opinion states as he was "sweeping the feed slab that morning, he was hit by the front-end loader on a John Deere tractor, knocked down, and run over by the right front wheel of the tractor."

Double Diamond managers said they had retained HR Services to assist with human resources and workers compensation issues, the ruling said. However, there was no written contract for this agreement. For these services, Double Diamond had paid $24,000 per year.

In 2013, plaintiffs filed a wrongful death and survival action against HR Mobile and others, as stated in the opinion. In April 2014, they filed a first amended complaint alleging negligence claims against HR Mobile.

Plaintiffs alleged that HR Mobile was negligent in failing to design and create a safety program addressing the safety of ground workers in the vicinity of heavy equipment operations. They also alleged that the company failed to institute a safety program that included use of high visibility clothing for workers at the dairy, and in addition, that they failed to educate workers about the dangers of heavy equipment. Finally, plaintiffs alleged that HR Mobile inadequately managed its responsibilities.

In April 2016, HR Mobile moved for summary judgment in the lower court, saying that plaintiffs’ causes of action were devoid of merit because they could not establish the duty or causation elements of the underlying negligence claims. The motion also challenged plaintiffs’ prayer for punitive damages.

As a result, in July 2016, the Superior Court signed and filed an order granting summary judgment in favor of HR Mobile. In response, plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal.

In reviewing the details of the original filing and the appeal, Franson said he believed that HR Mobile Service met the requirements for “negligent undertaking.” 

After considering plaintiff’s appeal, the appellate court reversed the judgment and directed the trial court to vacate the summary judgment order.

Judge Herbert I. Levy and Judge Jennifer R.S. Detjen concurred with this decision.

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