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Mega Life and Health Insurance Co. v. Superior Court of Riverside County

April 14, 2009

THE MEGA LIFE AND HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANY ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF RIVERSIDE COUNTY, RESPONDENT; CHRISTOPHER CLOSSON, REAL PARTY IN INTEREST.



ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS; petition for writ of mandate. Edward D. Webster, Judge. Petition granted. (Super.Ct.No. RIC453741).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richli, Acting P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This case presents the question of whether real party in interest Christopher Closson (Christopher) can recover on a tort claim for fraud based on the issuance of a health insurance policy by petitioner Mega Life and Health Insurance Company (Mega Life) to Christopher‟s deceased wife, Kathy Closson (Kathy). We hold that although Christopher properly sues as Kathy‟s representative to receive all damages legally available on her behalf, he has no separate and individual tort claim based on the policy. Accordingly, we will grant Mega Life‟s petition and command the Superior Court of Riverside County to grant summary adjudication in favor of Mega Life on the complaint‟s cause of action for fraud.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Most of the relevant facts are uncomplicated and undisputed. With respect to defendant Mega Life, the first amended complaint alleges that Mega Life misrepresented the coverage offered by its policy and concealed certain facts relevant to Kathy‟s decision-or, as Christopher would have it, "the decision"-to purchase the policy. The policy named her as the "primary insured" and listed her three children as covered dependents.*fn1 Kathy alone signed the application for the policy. The policy was allegedly touted as providing excellent benefits, equivalent to or better than those offered by Kathy‟s previous policy. However, it is alleged that the policy in fact provided minimal benefits, leaving Kathy‟s medical bills unpaid. Christopher also alleges that after Kathy‟s death, he was pursued by creditors and struggled to pay the medical debts.*fn2

Following Kathy‟s death, Christopher brought the action "in his individual capacity as well as in the capacity of successor in interest." (See Code Civ. Proc., § 377.11 [defining decedent‟s successor in interest]; Prob. Code, § 13006 [defining successor of the decedent]; Code Civ. Proc., § 377.30 [granting to the successor the right to sue if no probate has been commenced].) There is no dispute that Christopher, as successor to Kathy, is entitled to recover most of the damages that were incurred and recoverable by Kathy.*fn3 The question is whether any wrongs by Mega Life in connection with the sale or issuance of the policy to Kathy give rise to an independent claim for injury to Christopher.

Mega Life‟s motion for summary adjudication of the fraud causes of action was based on the legal premise that Christopher simply had no cause of action. In response, Christopher pointed to evidence that he had participated in the decision to select the Mega Life policy, it was a "joint decision," and premium payments were made from community funds.

The trial court denied Mega Life‟s motion for summary adjudication, opining that Christopher did have standing to seek recovery on his own behalf.

DISCUSSION*fn4

A.

First, we will address Christopher‟s argument that we should permit him to sue on his own behalf because, absent such a remedy, he will be unable to recover for the emotional distress, which he alleges Mega Life‟s wrongful conduct caused him to suffer.*fn5

We do not agree that the point is dispositive in Christopher‟s favor.

It is often said-and is codified in California law-that "[f]or every wrong there is a remedy." (Civ. Code, § 3523.) But this statute does not create substantive rights or an unbounded right to damages. (County of San Luis Obispo v. Abalone Alliance (1986) 178 Cal.App.3d 848, 865 (County of San Luis Obispo).) Instead, "[this] wholesome maxim of jurisprudence . . . can obviously have no application to any but legal wrongs or those wrongs for which the law authorizes or sanctions redress." (Finch v. Western Nat. Bank (1914) 24 Cal.App. 331, 338, cited in County of San Luis Obispo, at p. 865.) "A tort . . . involves a violation of a legal duty, imposed by statute, contract, or otherwise, owed by the defendant to the person injured. Without such a duty, any injury is "damnum absque injuria‟-injury without wrong." (5 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, § 6, pp. 48-49, citing Biakanja v. ...


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