Law School Case Brief
Rodriguez v. McDonnell Douglas Corp. - 87 Cal. App. 3d 626, 151 Cal. Rptr. 399 (1978)
A reviewing court must uphold an award of damages whenever possible, and all presumptions are in favor of the judgment.
Plaintiff Richard Rodriguez worked for Orvin Engineering Company ("Orvin"), which was hired by the general contractor, defendant Norman Engineering Company ("Norman"), to perform certain work at a constriction site on property owned by defendant McDonnell Douglas Corporation ("McDonnell" ). Norman subcontracted certain structural steel work to Bethlehem Steel Corporation ("Bethlehem"). While at work at the site, Rodriguez was struck on his back and the back of his head by a falling piece of pipe from a crane. The crane had been summoned to the jobsite by Orvin; it was owned by defendant Cox Brothers Crane Service ("Cox") and was operated by a Cox employee. Rodriguez filed a lawsuit in federal district court against defendants and others seeking to recover damages for personal injuries he sustained in the accident. Rodriguez's wife, plaintiff Mary Anne Rodriguez, filed sought damages for loss of consortium. Defendants raised the defense of contributory negligence on the part of both Rodriguez and Orvin. At trial, the jury found that McDonnell was not negligent in causing injury to Rodriguez; Norman and Bethlehem were found negligent; Orivin was found to be 10 percent negligent in causing Rodriguez's injuries. The jury awarded Mrs. Rodriguez $ 500,000. Judgment was entered in the amount of $ 4,113,122.25 for plaintiff Richard Rodriguez, the trial court deducting from the jury award the total amount of workers' compensation benefits, $ 122,873.75, which had been provided by the State Compensation Insurance Fund ("Fund"), and in the amount of $ 500,000 for plaintiff Mary Ann Rodriguez. In entering judgment for the Fund against Norman and Bethlehem, the trial court deducted 10 percent from the total of $ 122,873.75 because of the jury finding that Orvin was 10 percent negligent. Thus, the net judgment amounted to $ 110,586.37.
Norman, Bethlehem, Orvin and plaintiffs filed motions for new trial. Bethlehem also filed a motion to set aside the judgment and sought judgment notwithstanding the verdict. All the motions were denied. Bethlehem appealed from the judgment rendered against it in favor of plaintiffs and from the judgment on the cross-complaint rendered against it in favor of Norman. In addition, Bethlehem appealed from the denial of its motion to vacate judgment; from the denial of its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict; and from the denial of its motion for new trial. Norman appealed from plaintiffs' judgment against it.
Was the award proper?
Yes, in part.
The appellate court affirmed the judgment in favor of plaintiffs, ruling that their award was not excessive because it was within the jury's discretion to grant them such an award. The judgment in favor of the Fund was reversed because of an error in the apportionment of damages; that matter was remanded with directions to the trial court to enter judgment in favor of Norman and Bethlehem against the Fund. The judgment in favor of Norman against Bethlehem was affirmed.
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