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At the 22nd Annual West Coast Casualty Seminar, Plaintiff counsel Michael Kennedy, General Contractor Counsel Matthew Hawk, Subcontractor Counsel Brian Sanders, Claims Manager James Rzpecki and I presented a new protocol for how to litigate construction defect cases. This new protocol is in compliance with the Code of Civil Procedure as well as the current case law.  But, more importantly these new Case Management Orders address the concerns that the parties have with the current process and provides them with admissible evidence in order to adequately evaluate their case and  be prepared to have a meaningful mediation within six months of the litigation.
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If you perform a Lexis search using the words “Special Master” in the Code of Civil Procedure you will find “no results.” This is because there is no statutory authority for such an appointment. Yet, in the area of Construction Litigation the parties regularly stipulate and the courts appoint a Special Master to handle the case management, discovery rulings and settlement conferences under a Case Management Order.


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John Podesta, an insurance coverage attorney in San Francisco, brings us his perspective on why the Form Interrogatories for Construction Defect should be used. John has handled hundreds of coverage cases  involving Construction litigation and other complex matters for over twenty years.  He is a nationally known speaker on Insurance Coverage issues in Construction and has written several articles on the subject.  He is also the author of the insurance Interrogatory 304.1 of Construction Litigation Form Interrogatories.

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It is generally recognized that construction defect cases are some of the most expensive, and complicated, cases being litigated in California.  I have personally been involved in cases with more than 75 payors contributing to a settlement, including contractors, insurers, and sureties.  I have witnessed them from the beginning of the modern Special Master programs in the 1980’s through the single assignment Special Masters (both mediator and case management/discovery referee) and the dual reference (where the case manager/discovery referee and the mediator are separated) and cases with no outside supervision and the case is handled per the CCP.  In all these cases, the same question is asked by the carriers:  “How can we get these cases evaluated and resolved quicker and less expensively?”  And the related question: “If this is a case that needs to be tried how can we get to that decision point as soon as possible?
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Last November I received the following e-mail:

Since courts are so overwhelmed and setting dates for hearing is now running 6 months or longer, how does one do motions to compel further responses to interrogatories in a meaningful way? I booked the first available date with the court, but it is not until next June and I need the responses in order to know what documents to request. Any ideas?

It is unfortunate that the California budget crisis has so imploded civil litigation in our courts. Despite the fact that discovery is the heart and soul or your case and you are entitled to compliance with your discovery requests; law and motion departments typically give discovery motions the lowest priority on their calendar. So, what do you do?
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Last week I received a phone call from an attorney asking what is the authority that says a party has the right to conduct discovery. I responded, “The Discovery Act!” Counsel stated that they needed more because a special master in their construction defect case refused to allow them to serve discovery and was demanding authority to prove that they had such a right. I thought it was such a basic concept in civil litigation that I was amazed that it even was an issue. Nonetheless, I went to the discovery treatises to find the answer.
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Growing up in an Italian household, our dinners consisted of salad, pasta, wine and an argument. Afterwards we all went out for ice cream with no thoughts of the argument that took place at the dinner table. That is because we thought of arguments as a sport and there was no reason to hold any grudges. However, when I became a lawyer I was surprised to find that lawyers did hold grudges despite the fact that law by its nature is an adversarial process and we are professional arguers.
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Nine years ago, in the middle of a Deposition, defense counsel called plaintiff counsel a “Bitch.” Plaintiff counsel immediately filed a motion for a Discovery Referee and I was appointed. The court ordered that I sit in on all the depositions and attend the site inspection. All communication including the scheduling of discovery was to be done through me. When I look back on this case, I realize that the moment defense counsel used the word “Bitch” it became the turning point of the case.
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The moral of the story is that court reporters are the caretakers of the deposition. Their job is to accurately record all statements made in the deposition for later review by attorneys, judges and appeals courts. It does nobody any good if the court reporter can’t get down an accurate rendition of the deposition. So, at the beginning of the deposition, advise the court reporter and all parties in the room that the court reporter is the “Goddess of the Transcript” and she is to immediately tell you all when she can no longer get an accurate rendition of the deposition. If the yelling, hostility and abuse continues, then recess the deposition and go to court and get a protective order and/or request a referee be appointed to sit on the continued deposition. See C.C.P. §§2025.420 and 639(a)(5). Do it sooner than later because your goal is an accurate transcript.
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