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Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Co. v. Matlock

California Court of Appeals
60 Cal. App. 4th 583 (1997)


Timothy Matlock (defendant), age 17, purchased two packs of cigarettes from a gas station—one for himself and the other for Eric Erdley, age 15. The two boys began smoking as they trespassed onto a private storage facility, where approximately 200 wooden telephone poles were stacked up high on the ground. Matlock and Erdley were joined by two younger boys, who walked with them on the poles. One of the younger boys ran into Erdley, who dropped his lit cigarette down between the poles and onto a bed of sand. Erdley unsuccessfully tried to put out the cigarette. Shortly thereafter, Matlock and Erdley were seen running away from the site. The poles caught fire. Two fire departments extinguished the flames. Erdley was insured under a $100,000 policy with Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company (Wawanesa) (plaintiff). The insurance company paid $89,000 to Woodman Pole Company for the property damage, $10,000 to the Orange County Fire Department, and $1,000 to the Huntington Beach Fire Department. Thereafter, Wawanesa subrogated to Erdley’s rights and filed suit against Matlock and his father (defendant) for contribution. After a bench trial, the trial court awarded Wawanesa $44,500 against the Matlocks. In holding for Wawanesa, the trial court noted that it relied, in part, on a state statute that made it unlawful to provide cigarettes to minors. The Matlocks appealed.

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