Court of Appeals Reverses $4 Million Jury Verdict Against Major Utility In Stray Electricity Case

On February 9, 2015, Division Four of the Second District California Court of Appeal reversed a $4 million jury verdict (including punitive damages) against Lim Ruger’s client, Southern California Edison, in the first case in California involving claims of personal injury and emotional distress allegedly caused by electricity or stray voltage migrating into a home.  In the published opinion in Simona Wilson v. Southern California Edison Company, the appellate court reversed the jury verdict on claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence, directing that judgment be entered in favor of the firm’s client, and ordered a new trial on the nuisance claim, which will now be more difficult for the plaintiff to establish in light of the court’s other rulings.  The decision eliminates any possibility of punitive damages in the case.After remodeling her bathroom, the plaintiff alleged that she began to suffer ailments after feeling a “tingling sensation” when adjusting her showerhead.  Plaintiff argued that Edison had known for more than 20 years that there was dangerous stray voltage at the property she purchased in Redondo Beach in 2007.  She argued that the stray voltage caused her harm and “extreme emotional distress,” both because of her ailments and her fear of harm to herself and her family.  Evidence showed that Edison had eliminated prior shocks in the house by 2005, but that they resurfaced in 2011 when Wilson remodeled her shower, putting metal plumbing pipes into contact with the ground.  Edison offered to replace those pipes with plastic ones, but she refused, insisting that Edison had to eliminate the stray voltage on her property, according to the ruling.In the decision, the Court of Appeal held that there was no evidence linking the plaintiff’s asserted symptoms to electricity.  The appellate court held that the trial court erred in refusing Edison’s proposed jury instruction that plaintiff had to establish with “reasonable medical probability” by competent expert testimony that defendant’s conduct caused plaintiff’s injuries as set forth in Jones v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. (1985) 163 Cal.App.3d 396.Additionally, the Court found that Wilson failed to show that Edison owed a duty to her, that it breached that duty, and that the breach caused the harm she allegedly suffered.  Given that stray voltage is an “unavoidable byproduct” of grounding, and grounding is required by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), “it cannot be the case that Edison breached a duty owed to Wilson by failing to eliminate all stray voltage at Wilson’s house, whether perceived or not,” the Court ruled.The decision also provides an in-depth analysis of why the CACI jury instruction for nuisance (CACI No. 2021) is inadequate and possibly misleading, particularly focusing on the need to balance the gravity of harm against the social utility of Edison’s conduct.   On retrial of the nuisance claim, the Court ordered additional instructions to provide the jury with more appropriate guidance on the factors to determine the severity of harm and suggests that the CACI committee consider revising its instruction.The Court also found that the CPUC did not have “exclusive” jurisdiction over the matter, despite its rules on grounding distribution facilities that inevitably result in stray voltage.The Lim Ruger attorneys who worked on this matter are Chris Kim, Sandy Sakamoto, Arnold Barba and Julie Kwun

Lim Ruger Handles B2C Acquisition for Korean Technology Conglomerate

Lim Ruger represented a Korean technology conglomerate in connection with its acquisition of a B2C (business to consumer) company in the US. The transaction is in line with the Korean company’s current focus on consumers purchasing products online globally. The transaction involved parties from multiple jurisdictions both within and outside the US.Lim Ruger attorneys John Lim, Jake Cho and Paul Kim worked on this matter.

Norma Nava Joins Pro Bono Advisory Council

Lim Ruger Associate Norma Nava will be joining the newly formed Pro Bono Advisory Council for Asians Americans Advancing Justice—Los Angeles. “The Pro Bono Advisory Council will provide guidance in the development of pro bono programs and open up leadership and involvement at Advancing Justice-LA,” says Stewart Kwoh, its President & Executive Director. According to the group’s Pro Bono Director, Christina Yang, hundreds of volunteers donate thousands of hours of their time to help advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education and build coalitions in our communities. As the needs of the community continue to increase, especially with deferred immigration action, the Pro Bono Advisory Council will play a crucial role in expanding and improving pro bono services.

Norma Nava Honored at the Mexican American Bar Association

The Mexican American Bar Association presented the 2015 Justice Cruz Reynoso Community Service Award to “For People of Color, Inc.” Lim Ruger Associate Norma Nava accepted the award in her capacity as the Vice President and Board Member of the organization. For People of Color, Inc. is a nonprofit organization providing free high-quality law school admissions counseling services to law school applicants from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.

Lim Ruger Receives NAPABA’s 2014 APA-Owned Law Firm of the Year Award

NAPABA 2014 COLLAGE

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) selected Lim Ruger as the 2014 Asian Pacific American (APA)-Owned Law Firm of the Year at its annual convention on November 8, 2014. NAPABA created the APA-Owned Law Firm of the Year Award to recognize APA-owned law firms that maintain the highest ethical and legal standards in the profession while demonstrating a strong commitment to the APA community. The Award also celebrates growing APA ownership and entrepreneurship in the legal marketplace.

Lim Ruger Welcomes Partner Jake Cho

JC bwLim Ruger is pleased to announce that Jake Cho has joined the firm as a partner. Jake advises private and public corporations on transactional matters encompassing a large spectrum of corporate issues, which range from formation, capital raise, debt financing, governance and business separations to M&A activities.

New Employment Laws For 2015

Each year, employers can expect a new slate of laws that impose requirements and potential exposure. Here is a sampling of some important new laws affecting employers in 2015.AB 1522: Paid Sick LeaveAB 1522, also referred to as the "Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014," requires employers to provide paid sick leave benefits to their employees, including all full-time, part-time and temporary/ seasonal employees, effective July 1, 2015. Employers must provide paid sick leave to such employees if they work 30 or more days within a year from the commencement of employment. Employees will accrue paid sick days at a rate of at least one hour for every 30 hours worked. Employers may limit the employee's annual use of paid sick leave benefits to 24 hours or 3 days per year, and cap the accrual of paid sick leave to 48 hours or 6 days per year. Paid sick leave begins accruing on the date of hire, and it may be used starting on the 90th day of employment.Employers who already have a paid sick leave policy or paid time off (PTO) policy in place are not required to provide additional sick days if their current policies satisfy the requirements of the new law.With the enactment of AB 1522, employers should start implementing systems for tracking the accrual and usage of employee paid sick leave. Those with sick leave and PTO policies already in place should review those policies to ensure that they comply with the requirements of the new law.AB 1897: Joint Responsibility For Workers Supplied By A Labor ContractorUnder AB 1897, which takes effect on January 1, 2015, a client employer will share legal responsibility for the payment of wages and the failure to obtain workers’ compensation coverage as to workers supplied by a labor contractor. A “client employer” is defined as a business entity that obtains or is provided workers to perform labor within its usual course of business from a labor contractor. However, the definition does not include business entities with a workforce of less than 25 workers (including those hired directly by the client employer and those provided by a labor contractor) or businesses with 5 or fewer workers supplied by a labor contractor at any given time.The new law makes the client employer jointly liable with the labor contractor for non-payment of wages and/or failure to provide workers’ compensation coverage. However, both client employers and labor contractors are permitted to include indemnification provisions in their service contracts as a remedy for liability created by acts of the other party.In light of AB 1897, employers who have a workforce comprised of workers supplied by a labor contractor must take steps to ensure that the labor contractor is paying the workers properly and has obtained adequate workers’ compensation insurance. For starters, this should consist of payroll audits by the client employer, as well as including strong indemnification language in the service agreement with the labor contractor.AB 2053: New Training Requirement For Workplace BullyingAB 2053 modifies existing law that requires employers who employ 50 or more employees to provide 2 hours of sexual harassment prevention training to supervisors every 2 years. According to AB 2053, effective January 1, 2015, employers subject to the mandatory sexual harassment prevention training requirement for supervisors must also include a component on the prevention of “abusive conduct” as part of the training. “Abusive conduct” is defined as conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.The new law does not create a legal right to sue for abusive conduct in the workplace, unless the conduct constitutes discrimination or harassment based on a protected class, such as race, gender or disability. However, covered employers should review their sexual harassment prevention training programs to ensure that the topic of workplace bullying is covered in 2015, and policies regarding unlawful harassment in the workplace should be updated accordingly.

Lim Ruger Prevails in Appeal Construing Several Issues of First Impression Regarding the Recognition of Foreign Country Money Judgments

Foreign-country money judgments can be enforced in California under the Uniform Foreign Country Money Judgments Recognition Act (the Act). Code Civ. Proc. §§ 1713-1724. In a lawsuit brought by Lim Ruger that went up on appeal three separate times, the California Court of Appeal ended decades of uncertainty by deciding several issues of first impression under the Act.In the most recent appeal, Lim Ruger prevailed on a motion for summary judgment and obtained a California judgment for its client in the amount of $8,818,628. The Court of Appeal decided an issue of first impression in the United States in favor of Lim Ruger’s client: does the Act apply to a foreign country money judgment that provides compensation to an employer for having to pay a criminal penalty to a foreign government due to the criminal wrongdoings of an employee? Judgments for fines or other penalties are outside the scope of the Act. Code Civ. Proc. § 1715. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeal found that although the judgment compensated Lim Ruger’s client for having to pay a fine, the judgment was not itself a fine or penalty within the meaning of the Act.Additionally, the judgment in this case awarded post-judgment interest at the rate of 20% per annum, pursuant to the law of the foreign country. This presented another issue of first impression: does a California court recognizing a foreign country money judgment apply the post-judgment interest of the foreign country, or does it apply the ten percent per annum interest provided by California law? Again, the Court of Appeal found in favor of Lim Ruger’s client and affirmed the grant of 20% per annum interest. This was a significant win because the accrued interest was in the amount of $3,787,397. Once the foreign judgment is entered in California, however, the court found that California’s post-judgment interest of 10% per annum applies.In a prior appeal in this lawsuit, the Court of Appeal decided another issue of first impression: actions for recognition under the Act are subject to the same procedural requirements as all other civil actions, including summary judgment procedures and trial, as needed to establish that the judgment is eligible for recognition in California. Hyundai Securities Co., Ltd. v. Lee (2013) 215 Cal. App. 4th 682.While many uncertainties have been resolved in these appeals, it nonetheless takes counsel with expertise in litigating under the Act to navigate the nuances and pitfalls of the Act’s deceptively simple elements and defenses.
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