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California Supreme Court Overturns 150 Year Old Law

Curd, Galindo & Smith attorneys won landmark victory

The firm of Curd, Galindo & Smith, LLP, represented the plaintiffs in a California Supreme Court case that overturned a state law which dates to 1865. The dental malpractice lawsuit at the heart of case will now go back to the trial court, giving the injured parties a second chance at justice. The ruling also gives hope to future plaintiffs in similar situations who were barred under the old law from recovering personal injury damages.

Outdated law was a barrier to dental malpractice victim

The California Supreme Court in its ruling yesterday June 25, 2018 in the matter entitled Samara v. Matar et al Case No.: S240918 overturned People v. Skidmore, which had been law since 1865.

Attorneys Alexis Galindo and Tracy Labrusciano with the law offices of Curd, Galindo & Smith, LLP represent Rana Samara in her dental malpractice case. The court documents reflect that in her case filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Case No.: EC056720 arising out of a dental implant Samara suffered nerve damage when Stephen Nahigian, DDS allegedly used too large of an implant, severing Samara's inferior alveolar nerve. Injury to this nerve can cause numbness, pain and/or loss of sensation in the lower teeth, adversely affecting quality of life.

What were the legal issues in the case?

People v Skidmore became law in 1865 and addressed claim preclusion, also referred to as res judicata. The Skidmore decision held that a judgment rendered in a prior action barred a subsequent collateral claim -- known as issue preclusion or collateral estoppel -- even if the original claim was not fully litigated.

In the Samara case, the court documents show that Samara alleged that Dr. Nahigian was negligent and that his negligence should be attributable to Dr. Matar as Dr. Matar was the referring dentist and the surgery took place in Dr. Matar's office.

The claim against Dr. Nahigian was dismissed on procedural grounds. As a result of the Nahigian dismissal, Dr. Matar then moved the court for summary judgment arguing that the claim against Matar should likewise be dismissed. The trial court granted Matar's motion for dismissal, but on appeal the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court's ruling. The Court of Appeal ruled that when a trial court judgment that rests on procedural grounds rather than a decision on the merits, the higher court need not affirm the judgment on alternative grounds that were not reviewed by the appellate court.

Dr. Matar then sought review to the California Supreme Court. The high court affirmed the Court of Appeal's decision to reverse the trial court's ruling which relied on the "Civil War era" Skidmore decision. The Court of Appeal ruled that claim preclusion was unavailable because Samara sued Nahigian and Matar in a single lawsuit, rather than two successive suits. The California Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal's interpretation, and further held that Skidmore was inapplicable to issue preclusion.

Why is the California Supreme Court's decision important? 

Now the case will go back to the trial court for a final determination on Rana Samara's dental malpractice claim against Dr. Matar.

The California Supreme Court ruling also sets an important precedent that may aid plaintiffs in similar scenarios involving intertwined lawsuits against multiple defendants. 

Mr. Galindo and Ms. Labrusciano are members of Curd, Galindo & Smith, LLP, a full service law firm that represents both corporate and professional clients and those who have been seriously injured or have lost a family member due to an accident, defective product, police misconduct or negligence. The law firm has recovered millions of dollars for its thousands of clients since 1995 by winning complex and challenging business disputes, death and injury cases involving police misconduct, traffic collisions, work place injuries and defective products, including defective automobiles, against some of the world's largest companies and governmental agencies.


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