Mental and physical disability is a trying issue for families that can cause incredible stress, especially when the person suffering from these infirmities is unwilling or unable to recognize their condition.  Further, when the person is mentally unable to manage their health, personal, financial, and business affairs, legals steps must be taken to protect those interests and counsel from an excellent lawyer can mitigate some of the pain and stress such a situation can cause a family.  The Foster family faced just such a situation when Mrs. Patricia Foster suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm during surgery and as a result of brain injury no longer was able to live independently, care for herself, or make sound personal and financial decisions.  Her husband, Mr. Billy Joe Foster, thus sought a full interdiction so that he could make legal decisions on her behalf.  The trial court took testimony from Mr. Foster’s doctors and her family members and ruled that full interdiction was warranted.  Mrs. Foster appealed and the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the full interdiction order.

An interdiction in Louisiana is a process whereby a concerned party requests that a court holds hearings to determine whether a person is unable to make reasoned decisions about personal and property matters.  If a court finds that interdiction is warranted, the court will appoint someone to make decisions for them.  A full interdiction is warranted when a court determines that the person in question is unable to competently make decisions about their personal affairs and their property.   “A court may order the full interdiction of a natural person of the age of majority, or an emancipated minor, who due to an infirmity, is unable consistently to make reasoned decisions regarding the care of his person and property, or to communicate those decisions, and whose interests cannot be protected by less restrictive means.  LSA-C.C. art. 389.  Essentially, a court will look to testimony of family members and doctors to determine whether a medical or other condition renders a person unable to make decisions in a reasoned manner, placing their interests at risk.  The person petitioning the court for the interdiction bears the burden of proving the interdiction is necessary by clear and convincing evidence.  LSA-C.C.P. art. 4548.

After Ms. Foster suffered the ruptured brain aneurysm, her family felt that she had become a different person and was acting strangely and illogically.  She began acting unreasonably and became fixated upon a man she knew from her past but had not spoken to in over fifty years.  Mr. Foster and their three sons all supported the interdiction based on these allegations because they had all seen the changed behavior in a formerly stable and reasonable person.  Mrs. Foster’s brother and sister also testified that Mrs. Foster had become an irrational person and supported Mr. Foster as consistently acting within her interests, thus making him a suitable legal guardian.  Further, Mrs. Foster’s physicians also supported interdiction.  Mrs. Foster’s medical psychologist testified that Mrs. Foster had admitted to trying to jump out of a moving car on two separate occasions.  The doctor testified that Mrs. Foster consistently acted illogically and that her obsession with a man from her past was delusional and a result of her condition.  A court appointed doctor who evaluated Mrs. Foster also came to the same conclusions and did not believe that Mrs. Foster would be able to live independently.

In Louisiana as in other U.S. states, the doctrine of res judicata – literally “a matter judged” – prevents parties from re-litigating a matter once it has been adjudicated on the merits by a competent tribunal. This prevents prolonged litigation of cases which have been purportedly concluded, thus avoiding an unnecessary waste of time and money. Although for res judicata to apply a judgment must be “final” and adjudged “on the merits,” a settlement agreement in Louisiana is res judicata between the parties and is accorded the same effect as a final judgment. (See Louisiana Workers’ Comp. Corp. v. Betz, 792 So.2d 763, 766 (La. Ct. App. 2001)). In other words, the signing of a settlement agreement can preclude parties from litigating matters specified as settled in the settlement. It goes without saying that parties should be cautious when signing settlement agreements. Illustrative is a case from the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal.

On October 10, 2005, Joseph Brown was injured in a logging accident while in the course and scope of his employment with AM Logging in Tanigipahoa Parish.  Mr. Brown filed a disputed claim for compensation on October 19, 2005 against the appellees in this case, AM logging and its claims administrator, Alternative Service Concepts, L.L.C. On July 14, 2006, AM Logging submitted a report to the Office of Workers’ Compensation (“OWC”), listing injuries to Mr. Brown’s collar bone, left ribs, and back. On July 24, 2009 – almost four years after his original disputed claim – Mr. Brown filed a second disputed claim listing injuries to his shoulder, ribs, back, chest, and neck.

After a hearing on Mr. Brown’s first disputed claim for compensation, the OWC held that Brown sustained a compensable work-related injury in the course and scope of his employment with AM Logging. It also found that Mr. Brown was permanently disabled with no reasonable possibility of rehabilitation through training or education, such that he could attain suitable and gainful employment. In its judgment of March 29, 2010, the OWC ordered AM Logging to pay Brown permanent total disability benefits of $121.00 per week, retroactive to December, 7, 2008 and continuing. It also ordered AM Logging to pay Brown $5,000.00 in penalties and attorney fees.

When seeking legal relief, plaintiffs will face procedural hurdles during litigation. Defendants can and will often use procedural mechanisms to avoid liability for claims brought against them. This is the nature of the game, and skilled attorneys are masters of the rules governing the conduct of civil trials. Procedural law differs from substantive law (i.e. torts, contracts, property) in that the former provides the rules for applying substantive law for live disputes. Procedural mechanisms set guidelines for what evidence the court may hear, how evidence should be interpreted, and burdens of proof. One such procedural mechanism commonly used by litigants is the “motion for summary judgment.” A recent decision of the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal discusses the motion for summary judgment and the requisite burdens of proof for parties filing or opposing such motions.

On March 11, 2006, a tanker truck belonging to John Williams was delivering fuel to Mr. Preston Payton’s dredging operation near Independence, Louisiana when it picked up a cable securing the dredge in the gravel pit. The dredge sunk beneath the murky water. Mr. Payton filed a lawsuit against named defendants Mr. Williams; Republic Vanguard Insurance Company, Mr. Williams’ insurer; Texas General Agency, Republic Vanguards adjusting agency; and Randy Anny, who leased the gravel pit where the accident took place. Mr. Payton’s Petition claimed that the defendants entered into a settlement agreement with him and agreed to pay him $256,714.86 as replacement for his dredge. Mr. Payton’s Petition also claimed that instead of paying him directly, Republic Vanguard and Texas General made the settlement check payable to Mr. Anny, who was obligated to pay Mr. Payton. According to Mr. Payton’s petition, the check used by Mr. Anny to pay him was drawn from an account with insufficient funds.

The Trial Court granted Republic Vanguard’s and Texas General’s motion for summary judgment which alleged that Mr. Payton failed to produce sufficient evidence showing that Mr. Anny acted as their agent. Mr. Payton appealed.

In 2012, an independent contractor, Charles Kamrath, contracted with Creek Services, LLC to move one of their bulldozers. Kamrath had previously moved the same bulldozer with his trailer without any complications. On February 24th of 2012, Kamrath loaded the bulldozer to his trailer and commenced the transportation to Hammond, Louisiana. Unfortunately, the flatbed from the trailer detached and struck an oncoming car driven by Alice Lewis on Cullom Road in Springfield, Louisiana. The impact resulted in severe injuries to Lewis and she subsequently died shortly thereafter.

Lewis’ family, the plaintiffs, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Livingston parish against not only Kamrath and Creek Services, but also their insurance companies Allstate and Houston Specialty. The defendants, Creek Services and Houston Specialty, claimed that Creek Services was not vicariously liable (which means they argued they were not responsible for the acts of Kamrath) for the wrongful death of Lewis under the doctrine of respondeat superior. In plain English, the defendants sought to release Creek Services of any liability because of a lack of an employee/employer relationship between Kamrath and Creek Services. In cases such as this one, whether a worker is labeled as an independent contractor or an employee is incredibly important. Such a determination is a question of fact, and different liabilities attach under each label. If Kamrath is an employee, then the doctrine of respondeat superior says that the employer, Creek Services, will be liable for damages, while Kamrath will be released of it. See La. Civ. Code art. 2320.  If, however, Kamrath is an independent contractor (the determination of which is made through a variety of court imposed factors listed below), Creek Service’s liability will be severed, and Kamrath will be the party solely responsible for the plaintiffís incurred damages.

An exception to the lack of liability on the part of the employer exists even if the worker is determined to be an independent contractor.  See Triplette v. Exxon Corp., 554 So.2d 1361, 1362 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1989). This exception states that the employer may be held liable if it maintains operational control over the activity in question. The most important aspect is whether the employer retained the right to exercise control over the work. Thus, actual control is not necessary. In the determination of whether an independent contractor relationship exists, courts have routinely examined the following factors: a valid contractual relationship between the parties; work is of an independent nature; the contract allows for the work to be done per the contractor’s methods without any control or direction from anyone else; an agreed upon price for the services; and the duration of the work is for a specific amount of time and not subject to termination at will by either of the parties.

Throughout the last century asbestos was used in many products as an insulator from heat.  Countless workers in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and beyond were exposed to asbestos fibers as part of their daily work.  Those fibers can lie dormant for decades prior to forming mesothelioma cancer that then can metastasis throughout the body.  Once mesothelioma is discovered typically a lawsuit follows in which every possible workplace in which the person was exposed is included as a defendant.  However not all defendants will remain in the lawsuit until trial.  Some will get out by filing motions in which they argue the facts do not support their inclusion in the proceedings.  The following mesothelioma lawsuit out of Shreveport shows what happens when the facts of a case do not support the Plaintiff’s allegations as to certain parties fault.

An employee of Parish Caddo sued his employer after being diagnosed with Mesothelioma in 2013 due to asbestos exposure. William H. Jordan alleged that his employer, R. F. Zimmerman & Company, Inc., was negligent or strictly liable for withholding knowledge of the dangers of asbestos exposure, failing to provide a safe work environment, and failing to protect him from the unreasonably dangerous conditions created by the asbestos on its premises and within its care, custody, or control.

Jordan also joined Progressive Care Center (“PCC”), A/K/A Virginia Hall Nursing Home, among others, as one of the defendants on whose premises he did jobs for. Jordan subsequently died a mere month after he filed his lawsuit. His immediate family was substituted as plaintiffs and asserted survival and wrongful death actions against the defendants. Prior to his premature death, Jordan alleged in a deposition that he worked part-time for Zimmerman during the 1950s and early 1960s, helping his friend James Yates with asbestos installation jobs. The work at the then Virginia Hall Nursing Home involved covering water lines during the construction of the building. The pipes were wrapped with a one-piece asbestos covering that was slit down the middle so it could be fitted around the pipes. Jordan further stated that the materials were already there when he began the job and that he did not see any Virginia Hall employees or take directions from anyone while installing the pipes.

In Louisiana the owners of motor vehicles are required by law to maintain a minimum amount of insurance in case of a collision.  That’s the law and there is no getting around it.  The rational behind it is simple, if you crash your car into someone else there needs to be at least a minimum amount that can be recovered by the other person.  The consequences of not following that law is a bar from recovering the first $15,000 for your injuries and the first $25,000 of any property damage that you incur if you are in a wreck and it’s not your fault.  Those penalties are harsh,  but what happens if you fail to maintain insurance and you still have a note on your vehicle?  Is the note holder left out in the cold for that first $25,000 to repair the car as well?  The following case out of Baton Rouge Louisiana demonstrates what happens in those circumstances.

M&M Financial Services, Inc. held a security interest in Sheilda Hayes’ vehicle and was owed a balance of $11,446.80 on its promissory note.   Unfortunately for Ms. Hayes while driving her that vehicle without insurance Jerry Richard collided with her. Richard was insured by National Automotive Insurance Company, so M&M filed a lawsuit in Baton Rouge seeking to recover the remaining balance on the Hayes’ destroyed vehicle, plus legal interest and attorney fees. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. In those motions the litigants sought to narrow the issues before the trial court. The defendants, Richard and National, argued that M&M was not entitled to the remaining balance on its note because of Louisiana’s “No Pay, No Play” law which bars recovery for the first $25,000 in property damages sustained by an owner or operator of an uninsured vehicle involved in an accident.  Louisiana Revised Statute 32:866.  However, the trial court didn’t buy that argument and ruled in favor of M&M and granted them their balance of $11,446.80, plus legal interest and attorney fees.

The case was appealed before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge.  The appellate court reversed the judgment in favor of M&M and instead granted the defendants’ motion dismissing the case with prejudice. The appellate court ruled that no issues of material fact are present in this case because all of the parties agree that M&M held a security interest in Hayes’ vehicle and that the vehicle was uninsured at the time of the accident. Therefore, M&M’s financial right is a question of law turning on the interpretation of Louisiana statutes.  The appeals court then went on to evaluate those statutes and discussed how they applied to this facts of this case.

In the law, it is quite rare for a case to ever be considered simple. Though the issues may seem quite obvious and clear to a plaintiff, it is almost never a good idea to represent oneself “pro se”. This is partially because of the subtle procedural pitfalls which may decide the outcome of a case. In the vast majority of legal matters, it is a good idea to carefully select an experienced attorney to guide the plaintiff through the legal process.  Unfortunately for a Pro Se Plaintiff in a case arising out of Calcasieu Parish the complexities of appellate procedures caused him to lose his rights to appeal.

In the original matter before the trial Court Pro Se Plaintiff Sidney Stagg alleged that he was injured while walking in a parking lot by a vehicle being driven by a Suddenlink employee.  The defendants filed various motions stating that the Plaintiff could not prove any of the alleged acts, specifically they produced evidence that the vehicle did not hit Mr. Stagg.  After an initial hearing following the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Fourteenth Judicial District Court of the Parish of Calcasieu granted the motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s case with prejudice. This means that the plaintiff would be unable to file another action regarding the same transaction. The judgment was signed on June 26, 2014, and the court signed an order granting the plaintiff an “out of time” appeal on December 5, 2014. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the unlodged appeal on February 6, 2015, essentially contesting the  district court’s grant of the out of time appeal since the plaintiff’s appeal was untimely. Notably, the plaintiff never filed an opposition to defendants’ motion.

In applying the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 2087(A)(1) and Article 1974, the Circuit Court observed that the delay period for seeking a new trial expired on July 8, 2014, and the period for  filing a motion for devolutive appeal expired on September 8, 2014. Since the plaintiff’s appeal was dated by the clerk’s office on January 5, 2015, and that appeal was labelled as an “out of time” appeal, the Circuit Court held that the original appeal request was untimely under the Louisiana statutes. This  means that the plaintiff’s appeal was successfully defeated by the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s unlodged appeal.

For quite some time, courts across the country have expressly disfavored the use of non-compete agreements (“NCA”s). On June 5, 2015, the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal ruled consistently with this sentiment. The court ruled against a company attempting to attain injunctive relief and damages against one of its employees for an alleged violation of an employment agreement.

On August 4, 2008, an employment agreement was signed between a sand and gravel company, Southern Aggregates, LLC (“Southern”), and an employee, Marcus D. Dyess. The contract contained, among other provisions, a non-compete agreement. The NCA, of course, functioned to prevent Dyess from leasing land to other companies/entities for mining purposes (in competition against Southern). Further, the NCA was subject to two limitations: (1) it would run for two years and (2) it would be specific to a geographical area of eighteen listed parishes in Louisiana. In addition to the NCA, the contract included a right of first refusal (“RFR”) to prevent Dyess from entering into business with another party without first making an offer to Southern. The RFR had the same geographical limitations as the NCA, in addition to a five-yeaar term.

Following the execution of the agreement, on February 8, 2010, Dyess left his employment with Southern. At around this point, Southern filed a petition in the court alleging violation of the employment agreement between it and Dyess. Southern alleged that Dyess wrongfully leased property for mining purposes in one of the areas limited by the agreement.  In reaction to this lawsuit Dyess filed a perepmtory exception of no cause action.  In this filing Dyess claimed that the right of first refusal was null and void pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute 23:921.  23:921 statute says all contracts that restrain a person from competing are null and void unless one of the exceptions applies.  Dyess further argued that none of the exceptions within that statute applied to the contract in dispute.  The trial court agreed with Dyess and an appeal followed.

If you are injured during the course of your employment, you may have a cause of action against your employer for your injury. But beware of time limitations. Even if you have a solid cause of action, you must be careful to ensure that you file your claim before the time allotted for filing has elapsed. Otherwise, your claim might become “prescribed.” This means that a court will not hear your claim because too much time has passed. See Lima v. Schmidt, 595 So.2d 624, 629 (La. 1992). It is important to seek legal counsel immediately upon discovering any possible work-related injuries. A good lawyer will help you keep track of these deadlines to ensure any legal claims you may have do not become barred. The following case demonstrates the problems that can arise when you wait too long to bring your claim before the court.

In this case out of the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, Mr. Larry Dufrene filed a lawsuit against his employer, Harvey Gulf, for damages arising from hearing losses he allegedly suffered while employed with Harvey Gulf. Mr. Dufrene submitted that his injuries were suffered in the course of his duties with his employer. Mr. Dufrene argued that in his time as a seaman for Harvey Gulf, from 1977 to 2010, he sustained significant hearing loss as a consequence of his duties and employment.

Because Mr. Dufrene was employed as a seaman with Harvey Gulf, the Jones Act and general maritime law applied. Maritime law is comprised of the laws and regulations governing activities at sea or in navigable waters. Under the Jones Act and maritime law, Mr. Dufrene had three years from the date of his injury to file his claim. See Crisman v. Odeco, Inc., 932 F.2d 413, 415 (5th Cir. 1991).

Car accidents can be an alarming ordeal. Especially, where there has been a fatality involved. Generally, when a vehicle has been physically involved in an accident, the driver can expect to have some liability. However, liability can also be involved where a driver requires a passenger to exit a vehicle, and the passenger is subsequently struck and killed by an unknown driver, hours later.

This horrific circumstance was an all too real reality for John Cefalu, when the trial court found Mr, Cefalu and his insurer USAA Casualty Insurance Company, (USAA), partially liable for the death of Piero Larrea.   Mr. Cefalu was driving Mr. Larrera and some other friends back from a night of celebrating Mr. Cefalu’s birthday in New Orleans. Mr. Larrera allegedly became belligerent and Mr. Cefalu eventually pulled the car over on the side of the interstate and asked Mr. Larrera to exit the vehicle. Mr. Larrera was eventually hit and killed by an unknown phantom driver.

A lawsuit and subsequent trial followed that series of events.  After three days of testimony a jury verdict was returned.  The trial court accepted the jury’s verdict awarding damages to the plaintiff, the father of decedent, and the jury’s assignment of fault. The assignment of fault was as follows: Mr. Larrea, 54% at fault for his own death, Mr. Cefalu 28% at fault, and the hit and run driver 18% at fault.  Mr. Cefalu and USAA appealed the trial court’s judgment to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, arguing that improper jury instructions resulted in the adverse verdict. Mr. Larrea’s father answered the appeal seeking a modification or reversal of the judgment with respect to the allocation of fault to the unknown driver.