California Appellate Court Defines Scope of Damages Recoverable in Survival Action

CALIFORNIA — The First District of the California Court of Appeal addressed numerous issues in a case involving exposure to friction products used during personal automotive repair. The family of decedent, J.D. Williams, filed suit in January 2011 after his July 2010 death from mesothelioma. The plaintiffs asserted claims for wrongful death, strict liability and negligence. The defendant, Pep Boys, was not named in the lawsuit until an amended complaint was filed on December 6, 2012. The trial court granted Pep Boys’ motion for judgment on the basis that the statute of limitations had expired, but allowed other claims to proceed during a lengthy bench trial.

On appeal, the court addressed  five issues: 1) whether the court abused its discretion in allowing Pep Boys to amend its answer to correct a previously-asserted statute of limitations defense; 2) whether the court erred in granting Pep Boys’ motion for judgment on the statute of limitations defense; 3) whether the court erred in failing to award damages for the costs of providing home health services; 4) whether the court erred in applying offsets to the award of economic damages based on prior settlements without allocating between the estate claims and the wrongful death claims; and 5) whether the court erred in awarding expert fees to Pep Boys. The court found merit on the third and fifth grounds. However, only the third was addressed in the published opinion as the other sections were not certified for appeal.

On the third issue, the trial court limited its award to the amount of decedent’s lost social security and pension benefits. The estate plaintiffs argued that the trial court erred by refusing to also award damages for the costs they incurred for decedent’s home health care and the home health care provided to his wife. The appellate court explained the nature of survival claims and the scope of damages recoverable under the relevant statute, California Civil Code section 377.34. Specifically, an estate can recover the “deceased plaintiff’s lost wages, medical expenses, and any other pecuniary losses incurred before death.” Based on this law, the appellate court found that the estate plaintiffs were entitled to recover the reasonable value of medical and other services they provided to decedent prior to his death, in addition to the home health care costs they provided to his wife, prior to his death. Plaintiffs were not entitled to recover damages for the value of services decedent would have provided to his wife, had he survived, because those claims do not represent “loss or damage that the decedent sustained or incurred before death.”

Read the full case decision here.