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John Corenbaum v. Dwight Eric Lampkin

April 30, 2013

JOHN CORENBAUM, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
DWIGHT ERIC LAMPKIN, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT. CHARLES CARTER ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
DWIGHT ERIC LAMPKIN, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEALS from judgments and an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Ross M. Klein, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. NC054159) (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. NC054349)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Judgments affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the matter is remanded with directions; order affirmed.

This case requires us to consider the impact and implications of the California Supreme Court's opinion in Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc. (2011) 52 Cal.4th 541 (Howell). As in Howell, the medical providers who treated plaintiffs in this case accepted, pursuant to prior agreements, less than the full amount of their medical billings as payment in full for their services. We must determine the admissibility in evidence of the full amount of an injured plaintiff's medical billings not only with respect to damages for past medical expenses, but also with respect to future medical expenses and non-economic damages.

John Corenbaum and Charles Carter (Carter) suffered injuries when a vehicle driven by Dwight Eric Lampkin collided with a taxicab in which they were passengers. Lampkin was convicted of fleeing the scene of an injury accident (Veh. Code, § 20001, subd. (a)), but was not found guilty on another count for driving under the influence (id., § 23153, subd. (a)). Corenbaum, Carter and Daniella Carter then filed two civil actions against Lampkin, which were later consolidated. After a trial, the jury found that Corenbaum and Carter, respectively, suffered approximately $1.8 million and $1.4 million in compensatory damages, and that Daniella Carter suffered $75,000 in damages for loss of consortium. The jury also awarded Corenbaum and Carter $20,000 each in punitive damages. Lampkin appeals the separate judgments entered in favor of Corenbaum and Carter. Plaintiffs filed their own appeal from the denial of their motion for an attorney fee award under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.4 (section 1021.4).

Lampkin contends the trial court erred by admitting (1) evidence of the full amounts billed for plaintiffs' medical care, rather than the amounts actually paid and accepted as full payment by plaintiffs' medical providers, and (2) evidence of his prior arrest for driving under the influence. He also contends Carter is not entitled to an award of punitive damages because he did not seek punitive damages in his complaint, and the amount of punitive damages awarded to both Corenbaum and Carter is excessive relative to his ability to pay. We conclude that evidence of the full amounts billed for plaintiffs' medical care was not relevant to the amount of damages for past medical services, damages for their future medical care or non-economic damages. Because plaintiffs have not shown that evidence of the full amounts of their medical bills was relevant to any other issue, the admission of such evidence was error. We reject Lampkin's challenges to the punitive damage awards. We therefore will reverse, in part, the judgments in favor of Corenbaum and Carter and remand the matter for a new trial limited to the issue of compensatory damages.

In their appeal, plaintiffs contend the trial court erroneously held that section 1021.4, which authorizes an attorney fee award to the prevailing plaintiff "[i]n an action for damages against a defendant based upon that defendant's commission of a felony offense for which that defendant has been convicted," does not authorize a fee award in these circumstances. We conclude that the court properly held that this action is not based on the felony offense for which Lampkin was convicted. We therefore will affirm the order denying a fee award.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

1. Plaintiffs' Injuries and Lampkin's Arrest and Conviction

Corenbaum and Carter were passengers in a taxicab traveling east on Broadway in downtown Long Beach at approximately 1:30 a.m. on April 5, 2008, when a Lexus automobile traveling south on Atlantic Avenue collided with the taxicab in the intersection of those two streets. A witness in the vehicle immediately behind the taxicab testified that the Lexus ran the red light traveling at a speed of approximately 50 to 70 miles per hour. The posted speed limit on Atlantic Avenue was 25 miles per hour. Both vehicles involved in the collision came to a rest, and the driver of the Lexus fled on foot. Corenbaum and Carter suffered serious injuries.

Lampkin was one of two registered owners of the Lexus at the time of the collision. He had spent the evening of April 4, 2008, eating dinner with friends at a restaurant and nightclub in downtown Long Beach. He consumed copious amounts of alcohol that evening. Security guards asked him to leave the restaurant and escorted him out at approximately 11:30 p.m. His companions left as well, and the group walked to a bar nearby. While the group was walking to the bar, Lampkin stumbled and fell to the ground. He later separated from the group, walked away from the others and fell a second time.

Nicolle Topp was one of several friends who were with Lampkin on the evening of April 4, 2008. After leaving the bar, several of them went to Topp's condominium a few blocks away. Lampkin arrived later, at approximately 2:15 a.m., apparently still intoxicated. He fell asleep on the floor. After he awakened in the morning he stated that his keys, wallet, cell phone and jacket were missing. Lampkin and Topp searched for those items where Lampkin said he might have left them, but found nothing, and then went to the parking garage near the restaurant where he said he had parked his Lexus, but did not find his car there. Lampkin called the police and reported his car stolen.

The police interviewed Lampkin that morning and arrested him. A jury found him guilty of fleeing the scene of an injury accident (Veh. Code, § 20001, subd. (a)), a felony, and fleeing the scene of an accident causing property damage (id., § 20002, subd. (b)), a misdemeanor, in January 2009. Another count for driving under the influence (Veh. Code, § 23153, subd. (a)) apparently was dismissed because the People exceeded the statutory time to bring the case to trial. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment and ordered to pay $271,335 in restitution fines (Pen. Code, § 1202.4, subd. (f)).

2. Proceedings Before Trial

Corenbaum filed a complaint against Lampkin and others in February 2010 and filed a first amended complaint in August 2010 alleging counts against Lampkin for negligence and gross negligence, and seeking punitive damages. Charles and Daniella Carter, husband and wife, filed a complaint against Lampkin and others in March 2010 alleging counts against Lampkin for negligence and loss of consortium. The two actions were consolidated before trial.

Lampkin filed a motion in limine before trial to exclude any evidence of his arrest and conviction of driving under the influence arising from a prior incident that occurred on December 23, 2007. He argued that such evidence was relevant only to his character and was inadmissible to show his lack of credibility, pursuant to Evidence Code section 787. He also argued that the evidence should be excluded under Evidence Code section 352 because his conviction for that offense did not occur until after the incident in this case. The trial court denied the motion in limine, stating that the evidence "shows a continuing pattern of drinking, becoming impaired and driving as to the issue of malice." The court suggested that counsel request a limiting instruction.

Plaintiffs filed a motion in limine before trial to exclude any evidence of the payment of plaintiffs' medical bills by a collateral source. On the same day, Lampkin filed a "Request for Court to Hold a Post-Verdict Hearing on Reduction of Plaintiffs' Medical Expenses to the Amount Incurred," requesting a post-verdict hearing "in the event that the jury verdict includes damages for past medical expenses in an amount exceeding the amount paid for those medical services." The trial court granted plaintiffs' motion in limine "without prejudice" subject to a posttrial "Hanif/Nishihama" motion.*fn1 The court also granted Lampkin's request to hold a post-verdict hearing, stating, " . . . we'll have the hearing."

3. Trial and Verdict

A jury trial in the consolidated actions commenced in May 2011 with Lampkin as the sole defendant appearing at trial. Lampkin admitted that he was negligent before jury selection began. Charles and Daniella Carter moved before opening statements to amend their complaint by adding a count for willful misconduct and a prayer for punitive damages. The trial court granted the motion.

In accordance with the trial court's in limine rulings, the jury heard evidence of the full amounts billed for Corenbaum's and Carter's past medical care and heard no evidence of the lesser amounts accepted by their medical providers as full payment pursuant to prior agreements with Lampkin's private insurers. The trial court, over Lampkin's objection, also allowed him to be questioned regarding his arrest for driving under the influence on December 23, 2007. The court instructed the jury, including an instruction that Lampkin had admitted his negligence.

The jury returned a special verdict on June 3, 2011, finding that Lampkin's negligence was a substantial factor in causing harm to each of the three plaintiffs. It found that Corenbaum and Carter had suffered past and future economic and non-economic damages totaling $1,834,602 and $1,392,141.87, respectively, and that Daniella Carter had suffered $75,000 in damages for loss of consortium.*fn2 It also found that Corenbaum and Carter, respectively, bore 10 percent and 20 percent of the responsibility for their own injuries. The jury also found that Lampkin had acted with malice.

Lampkin testified in the second phase of the trial relating to punitive damages. He admitted that he had been served with a subpoena to produce at trial all records in his possession, custody or control evidencing his "current wealth, assets and liabilities." He acknowledged that he had produced no documents and stated that he had no assets or wealth and nothing to produce. He later conceded, however, that he had $300 in a savings account and had a bank statement or bank book evidencing that account, but had failed to produce it. He testified by way of explanation, "I thought it [the subpoena] was assets and wealth. It didn't say anything about checking account or savings account." He testified that his only assets were his savings account and his personal clothing, the value of which he could not estimate. The jury returned a verdict, also on June 3, 2011, awarding punitive damages in the amount of $20,000 each to Corenbaum and Carter and awarding no punitive damages to Daniella Carter.

4. Posttrial Motions, Judgments and Appeals

On June 24, 2011, Lampkin filed a motion to reduce the compensatory damage awards pursuant to Hanif, supra, 200 Cal.App.3d 635, and Nishihama, supra, 93 Cal.App.4th 298, and pursuant to the trial court's pretrial ruling granting Lampkin's request to hold a post-verdict hearing on such a reduction. Lampkin sought to reduce the awards by the difference between the full amounts billed for past medical expenses and the amounts actually accepted by plaintiffs' medical providers as full payment for the services provided. The hearing on the motion was noticed for July 19, 2011, but later was continued to August 23 and then to September 6, 2011.

On July 5, 2011, the trial court entered a separate judgment against Lampkin for each plaintiff, awarding Corenbaum and Carter, respectively, $1,537,985.97 and $1,108,362.08 in compensatory and punitive damages, and awarding Daniella Carter $60,000 in compensatory damages.*fn3 The judgments in favor of Corenbaum and Carter also awarded $15,000 in damages against the co-owner of the Lexus, who did not appear at trial.

Lampkin filed a new trial motion challenging the punitive damage awards as excessive and unsupported by the evidence. He argued that there was insufficient evidence of his financial condition at the time of trial and that the awards were excessive in light of Lampkin's testimony as to his limited assets. He also moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the same grounds. The trial court denied both motions on August 17, 2011.

The California Supreme Court filed its opinion in Howell, supra, 52 Cal.4th 541, on August 18, 2011.

The trial court heard Lampkin's motion to reduce the compensatory damage awards on September 6, 2011. The court denied the motion, stating in a minute order, "[w]hile this Court feels that a reduction is appropriate, it is without jurisdiction to do so. As this Court has already denied the Motion for New Trial, the jurisdiction now rests with the Court of Appeal."

Corenbaum filed a motion for an award of attorney fees pursuant to section 1021.4.*fn4 Charles and Daniella Carter filed a separate fee motion under the same statute. The trial court denied the motions in an order dated September 6, 2011, stating that the felonious conduct for which Lampkin was convicted was fleeing the scene of an injury accident rather than causing or being involved in ...


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