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Daquan Jones brought a tort action against the City of Firebaugh for personal injuries caused by a dangerous condition of public property. and Hiller Aircraft Corporation, among others.

On July 2, 2018, Jones and Cheatham were operating an 80-foot-long “sleeper berth: tractor trailer” when they arrived at the loading dock of Red Rooster, a tomato packing operation located near the intersection of M Street and 12th Street. After picking up tomatoes, Jones needed to move his vehicle to accommodate other drivers.

After leaving the tomato packing facility he was driving on M Street when the road unexpectedly terminated in front of the private property of Hiller Aircraft Corporation. Unable to turn around due in large part to concrete barricades on the road, Jones and his codriver John Cheatham entered Hiller’s property.

Hiller’s general manager Steven Palm refused to let Jones and Cheatham leave until they paid $50. Thereafter, Jones and Palm got into a physical altercation. While being restrained by Palm on the ground, Jones was run over by Cheatham, who was driving the trailer tractor off the property. Jones’s “whole left side” was then crushed by the trailer’s right rear tires while being restrained on the ground by Palm.

As of April 8, 2021, four days before trial commenced, workers’ compensation insurance payments in the amount of $1,253,884.43 were paid to Jones by his workers’ compensation insurer, QBE Americas, Inc. However, the workers’ compensation claim remained open, and the amount of the lien continued to grow as more payments are made for additional medical care..

Trial commenced April 12, 2021. On May 4, 2021, the jury returned a special verdict in favor of Jones. The court adjudged City and Hiller Aircraft Corporation jointly and severally liable for $5,743,907.51 in economic damages and City severally liable for $750,000 in noneconomic damages.

Postverdict, on July 9, 2021, City moved for reduction of judgment pursuant to Government Code section 985 identifying QBE Americas, Inc., a “private workers’ compensation insurer,” as the “sole collateral source.”

The trial court denied the motion for a reduction of the judgment, “as the City has not provided sufficient evidence of the amounts paid by the collateral source or what plaintiff owes under the lien.”

The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded in the unpublished case of Jones v City of Firebaugh -F083759 (June 2023);

Government Code Section 985, subdivision (b), provides that a public entity may bring a posttrial motion to reduce a judgment against it by the amount a collateral source has paid, or is obligated to pay, for services or benefits provided to plaintiff prior to the commencement of trial. (Ibid.; Garcia v. County of Sacramento (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 67, 72-73.)

A collateral source payment’ includes monetary payments paid or obligated to be paid for services or benefits that were provided’ on behalf of the plaintiff by “private medical programs, health maintenance organizations, state disability, unemployment insurance, private disability insurance, or other [similar] sources of compensation . . . .” (§ 985, subds. (a)(1)(B), (f)(2).)

The trial court concluded “it [wa]s not possible” “to make a reasoned calculation of the amount of any reduction” because (1) the workers’ compensation claim “has not been closed” and “is not likely to be closed in the foreseeable future because of plaintiff’s ongoing medical needs”; (2) “since the workers’ compensation claim remains open, the amount of the lien will continue to grow as more payments are made”; and (3) “the total amount of the lien has not yet been determined.” The court expressed concern “an order under section 985 would have the effect of terminating the lienholder’s right to seek compensation for future payments.”

However the Court of Appeal noted that the language of section 985 limits the inquiry to payments made “prior to the commencement of trial.”

The trial court’s order evinces the mistaken belief that a motion under section 985 reaches payments made for services or benefits provided after the commencement of trial. Since it applied the wrong legal standard, we find an abuse of discretion.”

The post judgment order was reversed. On remand, “the trial court shall reconsider the motion for reduction in judgment pursuant to section 985 in accordance with the proper legal standard.”