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Jennifer A. Cormier is a partner in the San Francisco office of MG+M. Her practice focuses on complex litigation with an emphasis on representing defendants in the toxic tort arena. Throughout her career, she has successfully represented manufacturers, distributors, contractors and premises owners in multiple-party litigation involving exposure to a variety of toxins. She has extensive experience in overseeing and managing nationally recognized companies as National Coordinating Counsel, Settlement Counsel, as well as local counsel. She recently expanded her practice to defend businesses sued under California’s Child Victims Act.

On October 1, 2021 Governor Newsom approved Senate Bill Number 447 (“SB 447”) amending the California Code of Civil Procedure to permit damages for a decedent’s pain, suffering, or disfigurement to be recovered in an action brought by the decedent’s personal representative or successor in interest. Like many States, in California a cause of action that survives the death of the person entitled to commence an action or proceeding passes to the decedent’s successor in interest and an action may be commenced by the decedent’s personal representative or, if none, by the decedent’s successor in interest. As previously reported by the Defense Litigation Insider in September 2021 here, prior to the enactment of SB 447, California law limited the damages recoverable in such an action or proceeding to the loss or damage that the decedent sustained or incurred before death, including any penalties or punitive or exemplary damages that the decedent would have been entitled to recover had the decedent lived. Specifically, California law prohibited the recovery of damages for the decedent’s pain, suffering, or disfigurement in that action or proceeding.

SB 447, now codified as California Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) Section 377.34 as amended, permits damages for a decedent’s pain, suffering, or disfigurement to be recovered in an action brought by the decedent’s personal representative or successor in interest if the action or proceeding was granted a specified preference under CCP Section 36 before January 1, 2022, or was filed on or after January 1, 2022, and before January 1, 2026. The amendment requires plaintiffs recovering under this statute to report their awards to the Judicial Council and the Judicial Council will provide this information to the Legislature. We anticipate that after a period of collecting this data the Legislature will revisit whether to maintain CCP Section 337.34 in its current iteration or consider amendments to same.

The new law goes into effect in January 2022 and reads, as amended, in full as follows:

(a) In an action or proceeding by a decedent’s personal representative or successor in interest on the decedent’s cause of action, the damages recoverable are limited to the loss or damage that the decedent sustained or incurred before death, including any penalties or punitive or exemplary damages that the decedent would have been entitled to recover had the decedent lived, and do not include damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement.
(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), in an action or proceeding by a decedent’s personal representative or successor in interest on the decedent’s cause of action, the damages recoverable may include damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement if the action or proceeding was granted a preference pursuant to Section 36 before January 1, 2022, or was filed on or after January 1, 2022, and before January 1, 2026.
(c) A plaintiff who recovers damages pursuant to subdivision (b) between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2025, inclusive, shall, within 60 days after obtaining a judgment, consent judgment, or court-approved settlement agreement entitling the plaintiff to
Continue Reading New California Law Expands Non-Economic Damages in January 2022

Senate Bill 447 (“S.B. 447”), which proposes a change to the current California law to allow recovery of noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, after a plaintiff dies is headed to the governor’s desk after the state Senate approved amendments by the Assembly.[1] Currently, California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.34 limits damages solely to economic damages if a plaintiff dies before judgment enters.[2] As amended, the bill attempts to alter Section 377.34 and would no longer exclude noneconomic damages if the cause of action or proceeding was granted a preferential trial date before 2022, or if it was filed between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2026. The call for change in procedure comes after lobbying from interest groups primarily consisting of plaintiff attorneys, who stand to benefit if this proposed legislation is enacted.

After passing in the state Senate, the Assembly revised the bill to further limit the scope of S.B. 447 and added a reporting requirement for plaintiffs who received noneconomic damages between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2025. In such cases, the plaintiff must submit to the Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the California courts, the amount and type of damages received. The Judicial Council will, in turn, create a report detailing the information for the state Legislature. On September 3, 2021, the Senate voted in concurrence with the Assembly’s amendments and ordered the bill to be proofread and prepared for Governor Gavin Newsom to either veto or approve.

DISCUSSION

Introduced by California State Senator John Laird (D), S.B. 447 has some compelling arguments in its favor and has received enough votes to advance.  The bill, however, also has dozens of registered opponents with several arguments against it. Proponents of the bill note that most states allow a decedent’s personal representative or successor in interest to collect damages currently barred by Section 377.34, and claim that defendants take advantage of the present law, which contributes to the influx of cases awaiting trial in California. Opponents cite the longstanding rules in California and argue that such changes in legislation are unnecessary, as there are alternative means to recoup noneconomic damages.

While proponents attempt to refute economic concerns that may materialize if the bill is enacted by arguing that similar legislation exists in a majority of states, California, having the fifth largest economy globally, has a complex economic system that may not necessarily be comparable to most states. According to the fiscal impact report by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the bill could cost state agencies, including Cal Fire and CalTrans, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Additionally, concerns over the impact the bill may have in driving businesses out [3] of California, while not formally addressed by registered opponents, certainly are valid considerations.[4]

Arguments in Support of S.B. 447

There are essentially three arguments made in support of S.B. 447: (1) that California is among the minority of states in the country that prohibit recovery for intangible damages or damages
Continue Reading CA Senate Bill 447 Expanding Non-Economic Damages in Wrongful Death Suits on Newsom’s Desk