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Walsworth Obtains Summary Judgment in a Catastrophic Automobile Injury Case

Attorney: Michelle Watkins | Published 6.15.23

Walsworth Partner Michelle Watkins recently obtained summary judgment on behalf of a client in a catastrophic injury lawsuit pending in Placer County Superior Court. In this matter, plaintiff alleged that our client struck him with an automobile while he was performing custodial duties in his employer’s parking lot during the course and scope of his employment, and he sustained permanent injury to his lumbar spine and hip necessitating surgical intervention and significant future medical care.

Plaintiff demanded a policy limits settlement from our client. However, Ms. Watkins convinced the court that plaintiff’s claims were time-barred because he filed the initial complaint more than three and a half years beyond the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff argued that the doctrine of equitable tolling paused the statute of limitations while he pursued a worker’s compensation claim against his employer. However, with the assistance of the firm’s staff, including Paralegal Laura Erbe, Ms. Watkins was able to obtain critical deposition testimony from plaintiff’s worker’s compensation case, wherein plaintiff admitted that he had retained personal injury counsel for a possible civil suit against our client within the applicable statute of limitations, but counsel withdrew from representation before a timely complaint was filed.

Based on Ms. Watkins’ persuasive legal analysis and presentation, the court rejected plaintiff’s argument. The court noted that equitable tolling may be appropriate in cases where the plaintiff chooses in good faith between two remedies against a particular defendant, such as when a plaintiff files a workers’ compensation claim against his employer but then subsequently has to file a personal injury action against the same defendant when it is determined that the plaintiff did not qualify as an “employee” for purposes of workers’ compensation; however, equitable tolling is not appropriate where the plaintiff only has one clear remedy against the defendant. In this case, plaintiff’s only available remedy against our client was a personal injury action, and the court found that the doctrine of equitable tolling was not available because plaintiff failed to pursue his civil action against the defendant within the statutory period. As such, the court held that our client satisfied his initial burden of showing entitlement to summary judgment and that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate any triable issues of material fact, such that summary judgment would be granted and the matter would be disposed of in favor of the defense.

Walsworth would like to thank Ms. Watkins and Ms. Erbe, for their hard work on this case. For more information on the issues presented in this matter, please contact Michelle Watkins.