[COLUMN] Multiple defendants, single cause

SOME premises liability cases involve multiple negligent parties who cause the plaintiff to suffer one single injury.

In representing a single plaintiff in such a case, it may be difficult for the attorney to prove which defendant was responsible for the client’s injuries.

As an example, inside of a store that is undergoing construction, a shopper is injured when a negligently installed sign gives way, causing the shopper to fall to the ground.

Two different companies were installing the sign in the same negligent manner, but both have denied responsibility.  How can you prove one company is more negligent than the other?

In Summers v. Tice (1948) 33 Cal. 2d 80, 86-87, the California Supreme Court answered this question.  In this case, the plaintiff sued two defendants with whom he went hunting, when both defendants shot at the same bird (in plaintiff’s direction) and struck plaintiff.

Plaintiff was unable to prove from which defendant’s shotgun the injuring bullets came. The Summers court avoided this confusion by a fourth-right recognition that when one of two negligent defendants injures the plaintiff and it is impossible for the plaintiff to prove which one, it is reasonable to shift the burden to each defendant to prove that it was not his negligence that caused plaintiff’s injury. Thus, the Court shifted the burden of proof to the two defendants to absolve themselves of the bullet that injured plaintiff.

In applying these principles, in order for the attorney to request the court for a burden shifting instruction in a multiple-defendant scenario, evidence must be provided which shows that:

  • Both defendants were negligent;
  • No other party could have caused the negligence;
  • Your Client was innocent of any negligence;
  • The defendants had a superior knowledge as to which of them caused the harm; and
  • It would be unfair to your client to absolve both defendants of any liability.

At the Law Offices of Tavakoli & Associates, we take every step pre-litigation and at trial to make sure your case is presented well to make sure we MAXIMIZE your recovery.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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If you have further questions, an experienced Injury Lawyer at the Law Offices of Tavakoli & Associates will be able to help you navigate the issues and provide you with the aggressive representation you need and deserve.

(Advertising Supplement)


Atty. Payam Tavakoli

Payam Tavakoli is an attorney in Los Angeles practicing civil ligation. As a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, American Bar Association, Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, and State Bar of California litigation section, he has personally handled and litigated hundreds of cases in California courts (state and federal), including pre-trial settlements as well as jury trials and court trials. His firm consists of staff and associates dedicated to several departments such as personal injury. His personal interest, knowledge, and involvement in the field allow him to be active, yet selective, in representing a qualified number of cases. For more information, please visit http://tavakolilaw.com.

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