Melanie M. Smith


Melanie Smith's litigation experience includes premises liability, commercial auto, personal auto, construction accidents, construction defects, subrogation claims, equine law, products liability, and commercial litigation matters. Her clients include developers, general contractors, subcontractors, and product manufacturers. She also has experience in defending horse ranches, equestrian centers, and horse trainers in disputes involving unique matters ranging from personal injury claims to contract claims relating to purchases and sales, as well as loss-of-use claims, and has experience in transactional matters and corporate formation.

Her extensive experience includes taking numerous matters to trial or arbitration, Melanie has a keen ability to investigate and defend cases through final resolution or judgment. She works closely with clients to effectively and efficiently manage all aspects of litigation in order to best serve her clients’ interests.

Melanie has been invited to speak at the annual CLM Construction Conference, has been published in the CLM Construction Claims magazine, and has spoken on multiple panels for the San Diego County Bar Association's MCLE program. She has served on the San Diego County Bar Association Animal Law Executive Committee as a Member-At-Large for 2019 and 2020.

Melanie has previously served on the Wake Forest University Alumni Council and currently serves as the San Diego Wake Forest Club president. She is also the coordinator for Wake Forest's Alumni-In-Admissions program for San Diego and Orange Counties. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Foster the Earth, a 501(c)(3) organization which provides educational outdoor experiences to underserved youth in the foster care system.

Representative Experience

  • Prevailed on summary judgment in negligence action against horse ranch, obtaining a substantial award for client in attorneys' fees and costs as prevailing party.
  • Prevailed on a Writ of Mandate on behalf of client insurer. The Second District found that the trial court erred in denying insurer's motion to stay a default prove-up hearing pending insurer's appeal of the trial court's denial of its motion to intervene in the underlying construction defect suit against the insured.
  • Summary judgment was granted in favor of client insurer in a case in which a general contractor of a large apartment complex filed a judgment creditor action, based on a default judgment obtained as a result of an arbitration award against the named insured. General contractor sought over $300,000 in satisfaction of the judgment, interest, and costs of suit, but was denied recovery on the basis that coverage was precluded pursuant to a "Development/New Construction Residential Exclusion."
  • Prevailed on summary judgment for plumbing component manufacturer in multiple subrogation lawsuits on the grounds that the claims were barred by the 10-year statute of repose for construction defects
  • Won on appeal with a published decision in California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Swigart v. Bruno (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 529, affirming summary judgment granted by trial court. In the lawsuit, the lead rider in an endurance horseback riding event brought an action against a trailing rider for negligence, reckless or intentional misconduct, and having an animal with a dangerous propensity after the trailing rider's horse struck and injured the plaintiff while she was dismounted at a checkpoint.
  • Prevailed on summary judgment on assumption of risk ground in favor of a large equestrian center after a rider on a guided trail ride came unseated and fell, and alleged negligence.
  • Prevailed on summary judgment in favor of professional racehorse trainer in negligence suit where horse came loose during a training run and allegedly injured another professional trainer that attempted to catch the horse. Trial court held plaintiff failed to prove up causation.
  • Won on appeal after trial court sustained a demurrer without leave to amend on primary assumption of risk grounds. In an unpublished decision, the Court of Appeal, Fourth District affirmed sustaining the demurrer in favor of client/professional polo player, after the player allegedly hit the polo ball out of bounds during match play and the ball struck a spectator, who sued for negligence.
  • Defense verdict and substantial costs award obtained for horseback riding camp and riding instructor in a lawsuit brought by a camper after she fell from a horse after going over a cross-country jump during sleepaway camp. Partial nonsuit was granted by the court, finding that the waiver signed by the camper’s mother was enforceable, and jury found no negligence on the part of the camp and instructor.
  • Prevailed on summary judgment in favor of equestrian center in negligence suit where plaintiff alleged a condition in the arena footing caused her horse to stumble. Trial court held plaintiff assumed the risk of horseback riding, including the risk of uneven footing in an arena.



  • Loyola Law School Los Angeles  (J.D., 2003)
    • Recipient, American Jurisprudence Equivalent Award in Trial Advocacy and Advanced Trial Advocacy
  • Wake Forest University  (B.A., cum laude, 1997)
    • Women's Construction Litigation Alliance
    • Wake Forest University Alumni Council Representative
    • President, San Diego Wake Forest Club
    • Wake Forest University Alumni-in-Admissions Program Representative

Bar Admissions

  • California


  • U.S. District Court for the Central District of California
  • U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

Professional Affiliations

  • Association of Southern California Defense Counsel
  • DRI
  • San Diego County Bar Association
    • Animal Law Executive Committee, Member-at-Large, Since 2019
    • Speaker/Panelist

Charitable & Civic Involvement

  • Board of Directors, Foster the Earth
  • President, San Diego Wake Forest Club
  • Representative, Wake Forest University Alumni-in-Admissions Program