Legal News and Appellate Tips

Each week, TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal reviews several recent decisions out of the appellate courts in California, and elsewhere, and reports about the ones that might help you get an edge in your cases and appeals.

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Tag: Jury Instructions

“You Can’t Lose a Case by Making It Too Clear”: An Interview with Justice John Zebrowski

When the Supreme Court applied lis pendens law inconsistent with the lis pendens statute, Justice Zebrowski wrote a letter that got the attention of the State Bar. That got him on a lis pendens “task force,” which in turn was responsible for convincing the Legislature to amend the lis pendens statutes.

On this episode of the California Appellate Law Podcast, Justice Zebrowski tells co-hosts Jeff and Tim about his work on the Law Revision Commission, and the BAJI Committee writing and amending civil jury instructions. But given the low-absorbency rate with jurors, is the practice of jury instructions at trial merely ceremonial? And what is the difference between BAJI and CACI?

Mediating or arbitrating a case? Justice Zebrowski also offers some advice from 23 years as a neutral.

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Defense verdict reversed due to improper exclusion of evidence

After an ear doctor was sued for pushing a charity on one of his patients, the jury returned a defense verdict. But the Court of Appeal reversed in Silvester v. Niparko (D2d7 Jun. 20, 2022 no. B301926) 2022 WL 2197100 (nonpub. opn.), holding that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to allow Silvester to offer evidence of his impaired and vulnerable state when Dr. Niparko pushed his charity on him.

Seldom do judgments get reversed based on evidentiary rulings. But the judge here steadfastly kept out all Silvester’s evidence on an element of his claims, even rebuttal evidence.

There was one more curious detail in the opinion. The opinion notes that, during the trial, “Respondent agreed to a general verdict form in exchange for Silvester's written agreement that he would not seek to execute on any estate assets other than insurance and indemnity protection.”

Typically, defendants prefer to have special verdict forms, because it is easier to challenge them in posttrial motions and appeal. Silvester, to get his way on a general verdict form, agreed to limit his rights to enforce the judgment against the estate beyond the insurance and indemnity coverage.

This is an interesting strategy that may be worth exploring in your next trial.

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Appellate Court Cites Unpublished Opinion to Support Reasonableness of Pain-and-Suffering Award

Here is another recent opinion in which the Court of Appeal thumbs its nose at the California Rule of Court that prohibits the citing of unpublished opinions for any reason. (Ironically, the Court of Appeal does its nose-thumbing in an unpublished opinion.)

In the hit-and-run personal injury case of Shui v. B.R. & Sons (D2d2 Feb. 25, 2021) No. B299251 (unpublished), the Second District also provides a good illustration for personal-injury plaintiffs how to get key evidence into the record, and how to make a judgment more appeal-proof through the use of jury instructions.

This is another installment in a series of posts about ways appellate courts have cited unpublished cases, despite Rule of Court 8.1115. These cases might inspire ideas of how, with a little ingenuity, you too might bring up unpublished cases. But there is one thing you can bank on: if ever we find an example of someone being sanctioned for violating 8.1115, the perpetrator will not be an appellate justice. So follow these judges' examples, if at all, with extreme caution.

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