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Tentative Ruling
Judge Pauline Maxwell
Department 6 SB-Anacapa
1100 Anacapa Street P.O. Box 21107 Santa Barbara, CA 93121-1107


Robert Singleton vs David Colgate et al

Case No: 17CV01124
Hearing Date: Wed Jan 03, 2018 9:30

Nature of Proceedings: Contest Good Faith Settlement

TENTATIVE RULING:     The motion of defendants David Colgate and Laura Colgate opposing cross-defendant Jacqueline Mata’s application for determination of good faith settlement is granted. The court cannot say at this point whether the settlement between plaintiff and Ms. Mata was made in good faith. Ms. Mata may renew her application for good faith settlement determination after the parties have had more time to investigate the matter and conduct discovery. Defendant Tahoe Keys only recently appeared in the case.



This is an action for personal injuries arising out of a slip and fall incident. On February 13, 2016, plaintiff Robert Singleton slipped and fell on ice that had built up in the driveway of rental property located at 321 Glenmore Way, South Lake Tahoe, California. At the time of the incident, plaintiff was the guest of cross-defendant Jacqueline Mata (“Mata”), whose family had rented the property for the long weekend of February 12, 2016 to February 15, 2016. The property is owned by defendants David Colgate and Laura Colgate (“the Colgates”) and managed by defendant Tahoe Keys Resort, Inc. (“Tahoe Keys”). Plaintiff fractured his right elbow in the incident and has incurred over $50,000.00 in medical expenses. On March 14, 2017, plaintiff filed his complaint against the Colgates and Tahoe Keys for premises liability and general negligence, claiming that defendants failed to keep the premises in a safe condition.

The Colgates answered the complaint with a general denial on May 4, 2017 and on July 11, 2017 cross-complained against Mata for equitable indemnity, contribution, and declaratory relief. Plaintiff subsequently agreed to release Mata from any and all claims arising from the subject incident in exchange for the payment of $5,000.00. On November 11, 2017, Mata filed an application for determination of good faith settlement. The Colgates now move for an order denying Mata’s application for good faith settlement determination.


Code of Civil Procedure Section 877.6, subdivision (a)(2), provides in relevant part:

“[A] settling party may give notice of settlement to all parties and to the court, together with an application for determination of good faith settlement and a proposed order. The application shall indicate the settling parties, and the basis, terms, and amount of the settlement. . . . Within 25 days of the mailing of the notice, application, and proposed order, or within 20 days of personal service, a nonsettling party may file a notice of motion to contest the good faith of the settlement. . . .”

Section 877.6 further provides:

“(b) The issue of the good faith of a settlement may be determined by the court on the basis of affidavits served with the notice of hearing, and counteraffidavits filed in response, or the court may, in its discretion, receive other evidence at the hearing.

“(c) 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.

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

In Tech-Bilt, Inc. v. Woodward-Clyde & Associates (1985) 38 Cal.3d 488, the California Supreme Court outlined the factors for determining whether a settlement is in good faith. These factors include the plaintiff’s potential recovery, the amount of the settlement, the settling defendant’s proportionate share of liability, and a recognition that a settlor should pay less in settlement than it would if it were found liable after a trial. Id., at 499-500. Other relevant considerations include the financial condition and insurance policy limits of the settling defendant, as well as the existence of collusion, fraud, or tortious conduct aimed at injuring the interests of the nonsettling defendants. Ibid. A party asserting the lack of good faith has the burden of proof on that issue and must demonstrate 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.” Ibid.

On November 8, 2017, Mata filed her application seeking a determination that her settlement with plaintiff in the amount of $5,000.00 was made in good faith. Mata contends that she has little or no liability in the matter because Tahoe Keys, the property manager for the Colgates, is primarily responsible for the incident as it failed to clear the ice and snow from the driveway before the Matas and plaintiff arrived on the evening of February 12, 2016. (Application, p. 4:12-17.) Mata and her family were mere weekend renters of the property. (Mata Dec., ¶2.) When the Matas arrived at the property, Mata noticed that there was ice across the driveway, which was long and steep, and the next morning she called Tahoe Keys and told them about the icy condition. (Mata Dec., ¶5.) Mata also warned plaintiff about the icy condition in the driveway moments before he went outside and slipped and fell. (Mata Dec., ¶7.) However, Tahoe Keys denies receiving a call from Mata until the afternoon of February 13, 2016, after plaintiff had already fallen, at which time they immediately went out to the property and salted the driveway. (Roddy Dec., Ex. 3.)

It is undisputed that plaintiff fractured his right elbow as a result of the incident, that he underwent surgery, and that his medical specials to date are approximately $50,000.00. (Application, p. 4:2-3; Motion Opposing Application, p. 3:13-15.) It is also undisputed that the verdict potential in the case, assuming 100% liability on the part of defendants and cross-defendants, is approximately $200,000.00. (Application, p. 4:10-12; Motion Opposing Application, p. 3:13-15.) Accordingly, Mata’s $5,000.00 settlement is just 2.5% of the potential liability in the case. Mata argues that she has no liability because the owners of the property, the Colgates, and their property manager, Tahoe Keys, were responsible for maintaining the premises in a safe condition by clearing the snow and ice from the steep driveway. Under California law, however, both the owners and possessors of real property owe a duty to invitees to warn against known dangerous conditions and to take steps to correct any unsafe conditions that exist. Fitch Lebeau (1969) 1 Cal.App.3d 320, 324.

Premises liability claims are governed by Civil Code Section 1714, which provides that “[e]veryone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property . . . .” The occupant of land, therefore, just like the owner, is responsible for an injury caused to another by his or her want of ordinary care in the use of the property. Roland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, 119. “Where the occupier of land is aware of a concealed condition involving in the absence of precautions an unreasonable risk of harm to those coming in contact with it and is aware that a person on the premises is about to come in contact with it, the trier of fact can reasonably conclude that a failure to warn or to repair the condition constitutes negligence.” Ibid. Here, Mata alleges that she called Tahoe Keys on Saturday morning about the ice, before the subject incident, but defendants deny this. Mata also alleges that she warned plaintiff about the icy condition in the driveway shortly before he slipped and fell, but no evidence has been presented that plaintiff has acknowledged receiving the warning. Because liability remains very much in dispute, the court cannot say at this point whether the $5,000.00 settlement amount is within a reasonable range of Mata’s proportional share of liability, if any.     

The fact that plaintiff and Mata reached a settlement on November 8, 2017, just twenty days after Mata filed her answer to the cross-complaint, is also a concern. Mata acknowledges that she and plaintiff are friends (they work for the same company) and that she invited plaintiff to spend the weekend with her husband and family in South Lake Tahoe. (Mata Dec., ¶3.) While Mata states that the settlement was reached in good faith, that there was no collusion between the parties, and that all negotiations were carried out at arm’s length (Hall Dec., ¶3), all of which may be true, the fact remains that the settlement amount is fairly nominal given plaintiff’s total anticipated damages. Also, Tahoe Keys only filed its answer to the complaint on December 14, 2017 and has not had time to conduct any discovery of the incident. The court recognizes, of course, that defendants have the burden of proof to demonstrate that the settlement was not made in good faith. Code Civ. Proc. §877.6, subd. (d). However, defendants have raised valid concerns regarding the settlement that must still be addressed. Were the court to grant Mata’s application for determination of good faith settlement at this time, the effect would be to extinguish defendants’ cross-complaint(s) for equitable indemnity and contribution, before fault has been more clearly determined.

Based on the foregoing, the court will grant the Colgates’ motion for order denying Mata’s application for good faith settlement determination. Mata’s application is denied without prejudice and may be renewed at a future date.

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