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Rulings in First-Degree Murder Case and an Insurer's Equitable Contribution Suit

By FindLaw Staff on March 11, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The California Court of Appeal for the Second District decided a criminal case involving conviction for a gang-related first-degree murder and a case involving an insurance company seeking equitable contribution.

In People v. Arias, No. B215566, the court faced a challenge to the trial court's imposition of life sentences for two attempted murder convictions claiming violation of federal due process requirements because the prosecution failed to allege those offenses were committed willfully.

As stated in the decision: "Here, the charging document alleged defendant willfully and with malice aforethought attempted to murder Stevenson and Spells, but did not allege the attempted murders were willful, deliberate, and premeditated.  Nor did counts 2 and 3 reference subdivision (a) of section 664."

Thus, in agreeing with the defendant that the penalty enhancement for the attempted murders must be stricken, the court concluded that the case must be remanded for resentencing as the prosecution failed to comply with the unambiguous pleading requirement set forth in section 664(a).

In Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Century Surety Co., No. B204521, the court dealt with the issue of whether the plaintiff can seek equitable contribution from defendant-insurance company based on defendant's failure to participate in the defense of 17 common insureds in hundreds of actions in which plaintiff and another insurer shared the costs of the defense. 

The trial court had ruled that plaintiff was entitled to half of all defense and indemnity payments it made with respect to the claims for which it was entitled to equitable contribution.  However, the court reversed the decision in concluding that the trial court's calculation was in conflict with the general rule that in order to be entitled to equitable contribution, a party must first have paid more than its share of the loss and bears the burden of proving so.

Thus, the court remanded the case for redetermination of the damages and held that plaintiff must prove that it paid more than its fair share of the defense and indemnity costs and also bears the burden of proving such.  Furthermore, the court held that one insurer cannot recover equitable contribution from another insurer any amount that would result in the first insurer paying less than its fair its fair share even if that means that the second insurer pays nothing.


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