Greg Rizio of Rizo & Nelson obtained a $58 million verdict ($14.5 million net) for Timothy Herman, who was involved in an auto accident that left him catastrophically injured. The defense sought a new trial, based primarily on an argument that the $58 million verdict was excessive. Mr. Rizo retained Jeffrey Ehrlich to prepare the opposition to the new-trial motion, which was denied. Mr. Ehrlich was retained to handle the appeal.
Ricardo Echeverria of Shernoff Bidart Echeverria Bentley LLP and Scott Howry of Young Woolrich obtained a wrongful-death verdict on behalf of the minor children of Tiffany Paregien, who was run over by a large truck while she was crossing a street in Bakersfield. The accident was recorded on security video at the accident site. Ms. Paregien’s children were 11 years old and 4 months old at the time of her death. Because she had no work history, Mr. Echeverria sought only non-economic damages, and was awarded $7.5 million for each child. The defense appealed, arguing that the trial court had improperly excluded evidence that Ms. Paragein was high on methamphetamine at the time she was killed, and that the verdict was excessive. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the verdict in its entirety, finding that the video of the accident confirmed that Ms. Paragien’s intoxication was irrelevant since she was run over from behind while walking normally in the crosswalk, and that the verdict – which the defense claimed was the highest award of non-economic damages in a wrongful-death action in California – was not excessive as a matter of law. Paregien v. Perez (Cal. Ct. App., Mar. 5, 2015, F067517) 2015 WL 1014194.
Plaintiff Mohamad Harb, MD, suffered a stroke while driving home from the hospital and was involved in a single-car accident. The Bakersfield police officer who responded to the scene was convinced that Dr. Harb was drunk or on drugs, and refused to allow an ambulance to transport him to the hospital. As a result of the delay, Dr. Harb suffered catastrophic brain damage. At trial, the City proposed a confusing, redundant police-immunity instruction, and also convinced the trial court to instruct on comparative fault. This allowed the City to argue that Dr. Harb alone was responsible for his condition, since he failed to take his blood-pressure medicine. The jury returned a defense verdict. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeal reversed.
The Court agreed that it was prejudicial error to give the police-immunity instruction, and that it was also improper for the court to instruct on comparative fault based on Dr. Harb’s pre-treatment negligence. In a case of first impression, the Court held that in California, medical providers and first responders cannot ask the jury to weigh their negligence in providing substandard care against the circumstances that caused the need for care in the first instance. Harb v. City of Bakersfield (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 606, 183 Cal.Rptr.3d 59,
After widespread abuses by the insurance industry were reported, the Legislature extended the statute of limitations for policyholders to file claims arising out the Northridge earthquake. The insurance industry attacked the statute, and Mr. Ehrlich handled the principal briefing and argument on its constitutionality in the appellate courts. After the statute was held constitutional on appeal, Mr. Ehrlich successfully defended that decision in the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, which both declined to hear the decision.
Summary – In this case Mr. Ehrlich convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that bad-faith claims against Medicare HMOs were not preempted by the Medicare Act, and could not be removed to federal court on the basis of federal preemption.
Summary (1) Trial court erred in dismissing insured’s claim on demurrer based on the genuine-dispute doctrine. Application of the doctrine was a factual issue that could not be determined on the pleadings. (2) The insurer’s contractual right to arbitrate uninsured-motorist (“UM”) claims did not relieve it from its obligation to make reasonable efforts to assess and settle the claim, and its failure to make those efforts would support a claim against it for bad faith.
Summary – On a motion for summary judgment, it was concluded there was a question of fact whether a delay of six weeks in arranging for a specialist was reasonable, in Kotler the health care services plan denied two appeals by the patient that sought reimbursement for a specialist the patient saw on his own because of the delay. (Id. at pp. 956-957.)
This was the first case in California to hold that an HMO could be sued for bad-faith for making its subscribers wait an unreasonable amount of time for medical treatment.
This was the first ERISA case in the 9th Circuit to hold that an insurer’s dual role as plan administrator and insurer created a conflict of interest that tainted its decision-making.
Held that health insurers and HMOs in California were required to comply with California statutes that regulated the use of arbitration clauses in health-insurance contracts. Mr. Ehrlich later convinced other appellate courts to adopt the reasoning of Smith, in Imbler v. PacifiCare of California (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 567, and Zolezzi v. PacifiCare of California (2003) 105 Cal.App.4th 573.
Mr. Ehrlich briefed and argued this case in the U.S. Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court adopted the position advocated by Mr. Ehrlich, and limited ERISA’s preemptive scope by making ERISA plans subject to state common-law rules of insurance regulation, which generally benefit consumers. The Ward decision benefited more than 80 million people who obtained their health insurance, life insurance, or disability insurance through their employer.