Motion for Determination of Good Faith Settlement

The court considered the moving papers. No opposition was filed.

On August 21, 2017, plaintiff Donald Foster (“plaintiff”) filed a complaint against defendants City of Los Angeles (“City”), American Airlines (“American”), Timothy Jackson, M.D. (“Jackson”), Congress Medical Associates, Inc. (“Congress Associates”), and Congress Medical Surgery Center, LLC (“Congress Surgery”) for dangerous condition of public property, common carrier liability, and negligence (including medical malpractice and government liability).

On May 11, 2018, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint.

Trial is set for August 13, 2019.

American requests that the court determine that the settlement between plaintiff and American was made in good faith and forever barring all future claims for indemnity and contribution against it.

In City of Grand View Terrace v. Superior Court (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 1251, 1261, the court provided the following guidance regarding a motion for a good faith settlement determination:

This court notes that of the hundreds of motions for good faith determination presented for trial court approval each year, the overwhelming majority are unopposed and granted summarily by the trial court. At the time of filing in many cases, the moving party does not know if a contest will develop. If each motion required a full recital by declaration or affidavit setting forth a complete factual response to all of the Tech-Bilt factors, literally thousands of attorney hours would be consumed and inch-thick motions would have to be read and considered by trial courts in an exercise which would waste valuable judicial and legal time and clients’ resources. . . . That is to say, when no one objects, the barebones motion which sets forth the ground of good faith, accompanied by a declaration which sets forth a brief background of the case is sufficient.

If the good faith settlement is contested, section 877.6, subdivision (d), sets forth a workable ground rule for the hearing by placing the burden of proving the lack of good faith on the contesting party. Once there is a showing made by the settlor of the settlement, the burden of proof on the issue of good faith shifts to the nonsettlor who asserts that the settlement was not made in good faith. If contested, declarations by the nonsettlor should be filed which in many cases could require the moving party to file responsive counterdeclarations to negate the lack of good faith asserted by the nonsettling contesting party.

(192 Cal.App.3d 1251, 1260-1261 (citation omitted).)

“[Code of Civil Procedure] Section 877.6 was enacted by the Legislature in 1980 to establish a statutory procedure for determining if a settlement by an alleged joint tortfeasor has been entered into in good faith and to provide a bar to claims of other alleged joint tortfeasors for equitable contribution or partial or comparative indemnity when good faith is shown.” (IRM Corp. v. Carlson (1986) 179 Cal.App.3d 94, 104.)

CCP § 877.6(a)(1) provides, in relevant part, that, on noticed motion, “[a]ny party to an action wherein it is alleged that two or more parties are joint tortfeasors or co-obligors on a contract debt shall be entitled to a hearing on the issue of the good faith of a settlement entered into by the plaintiff or . . . and one or more alleged tortfeasors or co-obligors . . . .” “A determination by the court that the settlement was made in good faith shall bar any other joint tortfeasor or co-obligor from any further claims against the settling tortfeasor or co-obligor for equitable comparative contribution, or partial or comparative indemnity, based on comparative negligence or comparative fault.” (CCP § 877.6(c).) Although a determination that a settlement was in good faith does not discharge any other party from liability, “it shall reduce the claims against the others in the amount stipulated” by the settlement. (CCP § 877(a).)

“The party asserting the lack of good faith shall have the burden of proof on that issue.” (CCP § 877.6(d).)

In Tech-Bilt, Inc. v. Woodward-Clyde & Associates (1985) 38 Cal.3d 488, 499, the California Supreme Court identified the following nonexclusive factors courts are to consider in determining if a settlement is in good faith under section 877.6: “a rough approximation of plaintiffs' total recovery and the settlor's proportionate liability, the amount paid in settlement, the allocation of settlement proceeds among plaintiffs, and a recognition that a settlor should pay less in settlement than he would if he were found liable after a trial. Other relevant considerations include the financial conditions and insurance policy limits of settling defendants, as well as the existence of collusion, fraud, or tortious conduct aimed to injure the interests of nonsettling defendants.”

The evaluation of whether a settlement was made in good faith is required to “be made on the basis of information available at the time of settlement.” (Tech-Bilt, supra, 38 Cal.3d at 499.) “‘[A] defendant’s settlement figure must not be grossly disproportionate to what a reasonable person, at the time of the settlement, would estimate the settling defendant’s liability to be.’ [Citation.]” (Ibid.)

“The party asserting the lack of good faith, who has the burden of proof on that issue (§ 877.6, subd. (d)), should be permitted to demonstrate, if he can, that the settlement is so far ‘out of the ballpark’ in relation to these factors as to be inconsistent with the equitable objectives of the statute. Such a demonstration would establish that the proposed settlement was not a ‘settlement made in good faith’ within the terms of section 877.6.” (Id. at 499-500.)

“Thus, Tech-Bilt held that in determining whether a settlement was made in good faith for purposes of section 877.6, a key factor a trial court should consider is whether the amount paid in settlement bears a reasonable relationship to the settlor’s proportionate share of liability. (Tech-Bilt, supra, 38 Cal.3d at pp. 499–500 . . . .) This is because one of the main goals of section 877.6 is ‘allocating costs equitably among multiple tortfeasors.’ (Tech-Bilt, supra, 38 Cal.3d at p. 502 . . . .).” (TSI Seismic Tenant Space, Inc. v. Superior Court (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 159, 166.) “Accordingly, a court not only looks at the alleged tortfeasor's potential liability to the plaintiff, but it must also consider the culpability of the tortfeasor vis-à-vis other parties alleged to be responsible for the same injury. Potential liability for indemnity to a nonsettling defendant is an important consideration for the trial court in determining whether to approve a settlement by an alleged tortfeasor. [Citation.]” (Ibid.)

Here, although there is no opposition, the court considered the Tech-Bilt factors as applied to the settlement between plaintiff and American.

This case arises out of a slip and fall that occurred at LAX on December 15, 2016. Plaintiff alleges he was walking on an American jet bridge that had a wet spot. When he reached the wet spot, he slipped and fell. Plaintiff underwent surgery to repair his hamstring tendon as a result of the slip and fall, and defendants Jackson, Congress Associates, and Congress Surgery sutured and injured his sciatic nerve during the surgery.

First, as to a rough approximation of plaintiff’s total recovery, plaintiff is seeking damages for his slip and fall and subsequent surgery injury.

Second, as to American’s proportionate liability, American contends that the subject settlement is clearly within the "ball park" of a reasonable range of settlement in consideration of the good faith settlement criteria. Although plaintiff contends American caused or contributed to the cause of his slip and fall incident on the jet bridge during the boarding process at LAX, the evidence does not conclusively establish a credible link between the acts and/or omissions of American, and the cause of plaintiff’s slip and fall, and the injury that occurred during the subsequent hamstring repair surgery. Given the lack of evidence to establish its liability, American submits that its potential liability exposure at the time of the settlement is less than the amount of settlement.

Third, as to the amount paid in settlement, American agreed to pay $600,000.

Fourth, as to the allocation of settlement proceeds, there is only one plaintiff.

Fifth, the court recognizes that American should pay less in settlement than if it were found liable after a trial.

Sixth, as to American’s financial condition and insurance policy limits, the moving papers do not address this factor.

Seventh, there is no evidence of collusion, fraud, or tortious conduct aimed to injure the interests of the other defendants.

After considering the Tech-Bilt factors, the court finds and determines that the settlement entered into between plaintiff and American was made in good faith within the meaning of CCP § 877.6. Therefore, the motion is GRANTED.

The court orders that any joint tortfeasor or co-obligor to this action is hereby barred from initiating or maintaining any claims against defendants.

Moving defendant is ordered to give notice of this ruling.