Traveler Injured in Dominican Republic Altercation Sues
There’s a growing need for English to Spanish legal translation services due to the fact that the Dominican Republic has been in the news extensively lately regarding numerous unexplained tourist deaths as well as the shooting of famous baseball player David Ortiz. Recently, in Prado v. Sanchez, the California Court of Appeal issued a ruling in a case involving a physical altercation that occurred between U.S. residents vacationing in the Dominican Republic. This altercation triggered serious injuries, the involvement of the Dominican Republic legal system, and a lawsuit.
Trouble in Paradise: Travelers Engage in Physical Altercation.
In this case, the parties traveled to the Dominican Republic (“D.R.”) for a wedding in January of 2015 and stayed at a resort. Three days after arriving in the D.R., the parties found themselves at the resort’s sports bar around 1:00 a.m. While patronizing the sports bar, the parties began an argument that resulted in a physical altercation. The plaintiff alleged that the three defendants beat him and attacked him so severely that he had to be taken to the hospital and that his injuries were so severe that he required surgery to treat his injuries. The defendants, however, tell a different story. The defendants claim that the plaintiff was very intoxicated. He began yelling at the defendants and even threw glass bottles of beer at them. One of the defendants, Mr. Sanchez, allegedly fell and cut his hands on the broken glass from the bottles the plaintiff threw and also had to be taken to the hospital. Mr. Sanchez was allegedly trying to get his pregnant wife out of the bar at the time he was injured. Contrary to the plaintiff’s allegations, the three defendants denied striking the plaintiff.
Parties Sign Settlement Agreement Written in Spanish.
After the plaintiff and Mr. Sanchez were released from the hospital, they appeared before a D.R. judge. The judge informed them that they would have to either settle their dispute or remain in the country and wait three months for a trial. Even though he maintained that he did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries, defendant Sanchez allegedly settled the dispute with the plaintiff anyway by signing a settlement agreement written in Spanish because he wanted to get his pregnant wife home to the United States as soon as possible. Defendant Sanchez paid some of the plaintiff’s medical bills but did not pay any additional bills upon returning to the United States.
Plaintiff Files Lawsuit Upon Return to the U.S.
After returning to the United States, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit in California state court alleging assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the three defendants he maintained beat him up in the resort bar. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court granted on a technicality. Specifically, the trial court found that the plaintiff had failed to file excerpts of his deposition transcript and portions of the defendants’ discovery responses in conjunction with his opposition to the motion for summary judgment. However, the plaintiff did file the omitted evidence six days later. Nevertheless, the court granted summary judgment in the defendants’ favor as a result of the plaintiff’s failure to file the cited evidence in accordance with California’s procedural rules.
Plaintiff Files Appeal.
After the trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff appealed to the California Court of Appeal for the fourth district. The court of appeal held that the trial court had abused its discretion by failing to consider the evidence the plaintiff filed late and that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the basis of untimely-filed evidence The court of appeal noted that “summary judgment procedure is supposed to weed out cases in which no triable issues of material fact exist, thus eliminating the need for a trial.” Citing Security Pacific Nat. Bank v. Bradley (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 89, 97. The court noted that in this case, there was no evidence that the plaintiff’s untimely filing was willful and that it appeared to be due to a miscommunication between the plaintiff’s former and current counsel.
The court also reasoned that the trial court erred by failing to consider the evidence because, under the facts of this case, it was likely that the court would have denied the motion for summary judgment had it decided the case on the merits due to factual disputes. The court explained that the plaintiff’s version of the altercation was completely contrary to the version the defendants’ presented. Moreover, the court found that the plaintiff’s deposition testimony showed triable issues of material fact on the circumstances surrounding the settlement agreement and whether the plaintiff signed the Spanish language agreement under duress.
For example, while the defendants alleged that the plaintiff’s uncle read the settlement agreement to the plaintiff in Spanish and English, plaintiff argued in his opposition to the motion for summary judgment that he did not want to sign the agreement, that he was forced to sign the agreement, and that the agreement was not read or explained to him in either English or in Spanish. The plaintiff also testified at his deposition that he did not want to sign the agreement, but that a D.R. Judge told him that the only way he could leave the country was if he reached a settlement. In addition, the plaintiff maintained that armed police officers were present when he was allegedly forced to sign the Spanish language agreement and alleged that a “public attorney” told him that if he didn’t sign the agreement, he would go to jail for Mr. Sanchez’s injuries and for “wasting the court’s time.” The plaintiff continued to refuse to sign the agreement but, when a Dominican Republic official told him: “Okay. You’re going to jail,” he finally relented.
Based on the foregoing, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment and ordered the trial court to hold another hearing on the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court further noted that while limiting sanctions for the delayed filing could be considered, terminating sanctions in this instance were improper.
The case is William Prado v. Rick Sanchez, Court No. E070030 decided on April 15, 2019 in the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Fourth Appellate District.
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