Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, February 15, 2002


Page 1


Suit by Family of Girl Killed in Helicopter Crash Not Barred—C.A.


By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts


The parents of an 11-year-old girl, who was killed in the crash of the helicopter that rescued her from the site of an automobile crash, are entitled to sue the city of Los Angeles for non-economic damages, even though they lacked auto insurance, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.

Overturning a summary adjudication by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rodney E. Nelson, Div. One held that the accident that took Norma Vides’ life—along with those of three civil servants—did not “arise” from the auto collision and was outside the scope of Proposition 213.

Norma and her mother, Genoveva Anaya, were injured in the 1998 auto crash, which occurred when the car in which they were riding—driven by an unlicensed and uninsured relative—apparently struck the rear of a city sanitation truck.  The truck had allegedly stopped to assist the driver of another truck which had been hit by a car while stopped in the street.

Norma’s injuries were determined to warrant air rescue to Children’s Hospital, but the helicopter crashed in Griffith Park, killing the child along with paramedics Michael A. Butler and Eric F. Reiner and flight crew member Michael McComb.

The pilot and another crew member survived.

In the litigation that followed, the family contended that the city was liable, both as the employer of the sanitation truck drivers and as the owner and operator of the helicopter.

Foreseeable Consequence

The Court of Appeal ruled two years ago that the claim against the truck drivers was sufficient to survive demurrer, the panel holding that further injury to a person being transported to a hospital after an auto accident is a foreseeable consequence of the accident.

The city then moved for summary adjudication that Vehicle Code Sec. 3333.4, enacted by Proposition 213, barred any claim for non-economic damages, arguing that if the truck drivers could be held liable, the fatal injury necessarily arose from the accident.

The section provides that in “any action to recover damages arising out of the operation or use of a motor vehicle,” the plaintiff is barred from recovering non-economic damages if the owner or operator of a vehicle involved in the accident was uninsured.

A 1992 Supreme Court case holds that Proposition 213 bars the uninsured owner or operator of a vehicle from recovering non-economic damages for the wrongful death of another person in the accident.

Justice Miriam Vogel, writing for the Court of Appeal, said that ruling bars Anaya and Norma’s father—as owners of the vehicle—from recovering general damages with respect to the car-truck collision, but not with respect to the helicopter crash.

Product-Liability Claim

The justice cited Hodges v. Superior Court (1999) 21 Cal.4th 109, which held that Proposition 213 did not apply to an uninsured motorist’s product-liability claim against the manufacturer of her vehicle, whose gas tank allegedly ruptured as a result of being rear-ended.

“As Hodges makes plain, Proposition 213 was intended to limit the damages recoverable by uninsured motorists when they sued ‘law-abiding motorists who pay for liability insurance,’ thereby giving the ‘law-abiding motorists . . . some savings in the form of reduced premiums,’ ” Vogel wrote. “In short, section 3333.4 is intended to prevent unfairness when an accident occurs ‘between two motorists’ (one insured, the other uninsured), not to operate as a windfall to a person or entity that is not part of the automobile insurance ‘system.’” 

The justice distinguished Day v. City of Fontana (2001) 25 Cal.4th 268, in which the court held that an uninsured motorcyclist injured in an accident could not recover general damages from the city for allegedly maintaining a dangerous intersection or creating a nuisance.

 The court held that the claim against the city was barred by Proposition 213. It distinguished Hodges on the ground that in the earlier case, “there was no necessary connection between the plaintiff’s injury and ‘the operation or use’ of the vehicle.’.”

“Property-related” causes of action like nuisance and dangerous condition, when pled as a result of an automobile accident,  necessarily arise out of the accident, the court said. 

Unlike in Day, Vogel explained yesterday, the claim for the death in the helicopter crash was not based on a “property-related” cause of action. Thus, she explained, “Hodges trumps Day and compels the conclusion that section 3333.4 does not limit the City’s liability to Plaintiffs on their helicopter-related claims.”

The case is Anaya v. Superior Court, 02 S.O.S. 863.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company