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Soto v. Super. Ct. (CA4/2 E081902 5/29/24) CalSTRS | Statutory Reimbursement of Disability Benefits

By May 29, 2024June 24th, 2024Uncategorized

Arasely Soto was injured during a routine medical procedure and had to retire from her job as a public school teacher.  She sued her medical providers for medical malpractice and also sought disability retirement benefits from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS).  She and her husband, Raul Soto, settled with several of the medical malpractice defendants.  (We occasionally refer to the Sotos by their first names for the sake of clarity.  No disrespect is intended.)

CalSTRS brought this action against the Sotos, seeking to enforce its right to subrogation or reimbursement.  The complaint alleges that CalSTRS is entitled to be reimbursed for Arasely’s disability benefits from her settlement with the malpractice defendants.  CalSTRS moved for summary adjudication on its declaratory relief cause of action, and the Sotos moved for summary judgment.  In connection with both motions, the Sotos argued that Civil Code section 3333.1 bars any subrogation claim that CalSTRS would have asserted against the malpractice defendants.  (Unlabeled statutory citations are to this code.)  Subdivision (a) of section 3333.1 “authorizes a defendant in a medical malpractice action to introduce evidence of a variety of ‘collateral source’ benefits—including health insurance, disability insurance or worker’s compensation benefits.  Apparently, the Legislature’s assumption was that the trier of fact would take the plaintiff’s receipt of such benefits into account by reducing damages.”  (Barme v. Wood (1984) 37 Cal.3d 174, 179 (Barme).)  Subdivision (b) of the statute “provides, in turn, that ‘[n]o source of collateral benefits introduced pursuant to subdivision (a) shall recover any amount against the plaintiff nor shall it be subrogated to the rights of a plaintiff against a defendant.’”  (Barme, at pp. 179-180.)

The trial court granted CalSTRS’s motion and denied the Sotos’ motion.  The court concluded that CalSTRS was entitled to seek reimbursement from the Sotos and rejected the Sotos’ section 3333.1 defense.

The Sotos filed this petition for writ of mandate asking us to vacate the trial court’s orders.  They argue that CalSTRS cannot assert a statutory reimbursement claim against them and that any equitable claim is barred by section 3333.1.  In opposition, CalSTRS argues that (1) it has a statutory reimbursement claim against the Sotos, (2) as a matter of law section 3333.1 does not apply to its claim, and (3) in the alternative, even if section 3333.1 could apply in principle, there is no evidence to support application of section 3333.1 in this case.

We agree with CalSTRS’s first and third points:  CalSTRS has a statutory reimbursement claim against the Sotos, and the evidence in this case does not support application of section 3333.1 to bar CalSTRS’s claim.  We accordingly express no opinion on the parties’ legal arguments concerning the applicability of section 3333.1 in general.  Because the Sotos’ section 3333.1 defense is factually unsupported, we deny the writ petition.