John Clifford is an experienced trial attorney who has a diverse trial practice representing clients in employment disputes, construction accidents and complex civil litigation, as well as product liability, professional liability and general liability matters. He is known for his ability to deal effectively with sensitive issues, building trust and presenting a seamless defense.
John is a third-generation lawyer with more than 25 years of experience. One of ten siblings, he was exposed early to the legal paradigm and has developed a focused approach that enables him to quickly dissect a case and determine a highly effective strategy.
John is a past president of the Association of Defense Trial Attorneys (ADTA), an organization of exceptional defense trial attorneys in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. John is also the past president of San Diego Defense Lawyers (SDDL) and recently completed a three-year term on the Board of Directors for the Defense Research Institute (DRI).
Areas of Focus
Employment & Labor
John’s employment practice includes representing clients in cases pending in both state and federal courts and before administrative agencies, including the EEOC, the DFEH and the NLRB. John is regularly called upon to provide guidance to clients with employment concerns in an effort to avoid litigation.
John’s experience includes defending contractors and equipment manufacturers in construction accident lawsuits involving injured workers and wrongful death claims. He also represents owners, developers, manufacturers, contractors, and design professionals and their insurers in construction defect lawsuits.
John’s transportation cases include the defense of high-exposure personal injury claims, long-haul trucking claims, and damage in transit and packaging claims.
General Liability / Premises
John’s clients include insured and self-insured commercial businesses, restaurants, transportation companies, schools and public and private landlords. He defends against personal injury and property damage claims as well as security breaches. A significant part of John’s practice is defending schools, religious institutions, and non-profit agencies against allegations of sexual misconduct by their employees. John understands the delicate balance in handling these potentially explosive matters.
John defends product liability cases brought against domestic and international corporations that manufacture or distribute consumer products, medical devices, construction and industrial equipment, recreational products, swimming pool products and household appliances. He makes it a point to know his clients and their operations and stays abreast of the latest government and industry compliance standards.
Throughout his career, John has defended a variety of professionals, including real estate agents, insurance agents and medical professionals.
California Supreme Court Holds Design Professionals Owe a Duty of Care to Future Homeowners
Design Professionals’ Duty of Care to Future Homeowners
July 11, 2014
On July 3, 2014, the California Supreme Court held that, based on common law principles, an architect owes a “duty of care” to future homeowners in the design of a residential building. To what extent the design professional must assume a role of principal architect or become involved in the construction phase before a duty will run to the ultimate purchaser of the condominium remains an open question.
Court Confirms the Limited Duty of an Insurance Broker to Procure Only Coverage Requested by the Insured
CA Court Confirms Insurance Broker’s Limited Duty under Policy
November 8, 2013
A recent California Court of Appeal case confirms the limited duty of an insurance broker only to use reasonable care, diligence and judgment in procuring the insurance requested by an insured. The court rejected arguments that the duty of an insurance broker to its client should be expanded for policy reasons.
California Appellate Court Expands Rights to Homeowners in Construction Defect Cases beyond Remedies Provided in the California Right to Repair Act
CA Expands Rights to Homeowners in Construction Defect Cases
September 19, 2013
The California Court of Appeals (Fourth District) has held that the Right to Repair Act does not provide the exclusive remedy to homeowners in cases where actual damage has occurred because of construction defects, thereby upholding a homeowner’s common law rights and remedies to seek actual damages despite noncompliance with the terms and conditions required for relief under the Act.
California Appellate Court Confirms Cap on Past Medical Expenses Applies to Medicare Payments and Should Be Imposed before Further Reductions for Contributory Negligence
Cap on Past Medical Expenses Applies to Medicare Payments
April 25, 2013
This decision limits recovery of past medical expenses to the amount paid for services, refuting the argument that a cap should not apply where payments have been made by Medicare or Medi-Cal. In short, a plaintiff may recover only what he has lost - and no more.
California Supreme Court Grants Review of Appellate Ruling in Beacon v. Skidmore
UPDATE: CA Supreme Court to Review Design Professionals Case
March 11, 2013
The California Court of Appeal held that design professionals owe a duty of care to condo homeowners for professional negligence. The California Supreme Court recently granted a petition to review, which renders the Court of Appeal opinion void and under California rules it may not be cited as authority.
No Recovery for Emotional Distress If Claimant Had No Contemporaneous Awareness That Defective Product Was Cause of Injury
CA Limits Recovery for Emotional Distress in Bystander Cases
January 25, 2013
The California Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court decision that bystander liability is allowed only in cases where the plaintiff was able to observe the event and perceive that the defective product was the cause of pain or injury to their relative. While noting that the lines restricting bystander recovery are “arbitrary,” the Court of Appeal stated that, nevertheless, those lines are binding.
CA Court of Appeal Holds Design Professionals Owe a Duty of Care to Condo Homeowners for Professional Negligence
Design Professionals’ Duty of Care
December 20, 2012
California’s First District Court of Appeal finds common law and statutory duties extend from design professionals to ultimate purchasers of residential construction. Despite the extensive analysis by the court, there remain open questions regarding the extent of the duty of care of design professionals to ultimate purchasers.
California Appellate Court Extends Completed and Accepted” Doctrine to Architects’ Field Operations
CA: “Completed & Accepted” Doctrine Covers Architects’ Field Ops
November 8, 2012
While a California Appellate Court extended the “completed and accepted” doctrine to architects’ field operations, it limits application of the doctrine to patent defects and activities in the field - the doctrine does not apply to claims of error in the development of plans and specifications.
California Legislature Limits Depositions in Civil Cases to Seven Hours
Depositions in Civil Cases
September 20, 2012
California’s governor has signed Assembly Bill 1875, which limits the length of depositions in civil cases. The new law will go into effect on January 1, 2013.
California Supreme Court Affirms Strong Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Affirming Mandatory Arbitration Clause in CC&Rs for Construction Defect Litigation
Mandatory Arbitration Clause
August 20, 2012
In Pinnacle Museum Tower Association v. Pinnacle Market Development, the California Supreme Court’s opinion demonstrates a strong public policy in favor of the mandatory arbitration of disputes. This case has clear implications regarding the enforceability of mandatory arbitration provisions in many other areas as well.
California Supreme Court Reaffirms Qualified Work Product Protection of Witness Statements
July 11, 2012 A recent California Supreme Court decision reaffirmed the need for clients to communicate with counsel early concerning the investigation conducted after an accident. The attorney can then direct the necessary investigation and analyze the manner in which witness information should be obtained to provide the necessary work product protection should the matter result in litigation.
California Court Holds Broker Has No Duty to Advise Additional OCIP Insured of Carrier’s Insolvency
March 5, 2012
In Pacific Rim Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Aon Risk Insurance Services West, Inc., a case of first impression, the court held that an insurance broker, after procuring a policy of insurance for a developer on a construction project, does not owe a duty to apprise a subcontractor that was later added as an insured under that policy of the insurance company’s subsequent insolvency, absent the assumption of a contractual duty to do so.
Chartis’s Legal Insights Publishes Two Articles by Wilson Elser Attorneys in the Winter 2012 Issue
January 10, 2012 Legal Insights has published two articles by California-based Wilson Elser attorneys in its winter 2012 issue.
Subcontractors’ Revolt Takes Hold in California: New Law Bans Indemnity for Active Negligence in Construction Contracts
SB 474, recently signed into law by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. bans so-called “Type I” indemnity agreements that require subcontractors to assume liability for general contractors’ negligence.
California Supreme Court Limits Recovery by Injured Workers: The Duty to Provide a Safe Workplace Under Cal-OSHA is Presumed to be Delegated to the Subcontractor
August 2011 On August 22, 2011 the California Supreme Court made claims by injured workers against general contractors more difficult when it held in Seabright Insurance v. U.S. Airways that the hirer of a subcontractor presumably delegates to the subcontractor any duties that arise regarding a safe workplace for the subcontractor’s employees.
California Supreme Court Saves Defendants Millions in Limiting Negotiated Rates as the Measure of Medical Expenses in Personal Injury Cases
August 2011 Today, the Supreme Court of California held that unpaid medical expenses are not economic damages and therefore not recoverable. Plaintiffs may be awarded no more than the amount the medical providers accepted as full payment for their services.
“Erosion of the Attorney-Client Privilege,” Declarations, Excess Surplus Claims Association, Winter 2007
“National Legal Issues,” ADTA Press, Winter 2006
Legal Insights Publishes Two Articles by Wilson Elser Partners
April 25, 2013
Wilson Elser Partners Named 2013 Top Lawyers in San Diego
March 18, 2013
San Diego Team Gets Dismissal in Action Involving Construction Defect
March 14, 2011 John R. Clifford and Allison L. Jones obtained a voluntary dismissal of a construction defect action involving a high rise condominium project in San Diego.
Clifford and Cumba Win Dismissal of Product Suit in Scooter Accident
March 4, 2011 John R. Clifford and Deborah A. Cumba obtained a dismissal with prejudice of a wrongful death product liability action at the outset of litigation. The product involved was a motorized scooter distributed by Wilson Elser’s client.
Awards & Distinctions
AV Preeminent Rated by Martindale-Hubbell
Rated by American Lawyer and Martindale-Hubbell as a Top Rated Lawyer in Labor & Employment, 2013
Selected for inclusion in California-San Diego Super Lawyers, 2007, 2009-2012, 2014
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Moderator, “What Manufacturers/Insurers Look for in the Retention of Counsel in the United States and Europe,” 2007 Joint International Conference, London, England