clinic-doctor-explaining-2182972-1024x683When an employee is injured on the job, workers’ compensation insurance often delivers more expediently than going through the courts. Unfortunately for the employee, it is also often less money than an injured employee could be awarded by suing the employer. As a Baton Rouge man recently learned, your type of employer can determine whether or not you’re able to sue your employer for work-related injuries. 

J.E. Merit, a contractor, employed Mr. James Fletcher at a Baton Rouge Exxon refinery from 1988 to 1999. Mr. Fletcher claimed that, during this time, Exxon exposed him to asbestos, and that this exposure was the direct cause of his pleural mesothelioma. To recover for this injury, Mr. Fletcher filed a lawsuit against Exxon in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court. The District Court found that, while Mr. Fletcher did work for J.E. Merit, he was also a statutory employee of Exxon. Therefore, the District Court ruled that workers’ compensation, rather than the court process, was the means of recovery for Mr. Fletcher. 

The type of employee-employer relationship makes a difference on whom one can sue. Under La. R.S.23:1032, workers’ compensation is the “exclusive remedy” for injuries sustained by direct employees. This statute protects companies while ensuring an expedient, albeit less compensatory, path for employees. Sometimes, however, the line is not perfectly clear between a direct employee and someone unrelated to an employer. When an employee falls in this gray area, he or she may be classified as a “statutory employee.” 

21-card-game-black-jack-blackjack-1871508-1024x644In order to successfully handle a lawsuit addressing the duty a business has to its patrons, an injured party should know that under Louisiana’s duty-risk analysis the main questions are: (1) whether a duty was owed; (2) whether that duty was breached; and (3) whether the breach caused the patron’s harm. Additionally, for a lawsuit in which the premises of the building are alleged to be dangerous, the plaintiff must prove that the building defect in question was “unreasonably dangerous.” Broussard v. State ex. Rel Office of State Buildings, 113 So.3d 175 (La. 2013).

A skilled attorney, and a successful injured party, will also be aware of how to win a motion for summary judgment (or survive the other party’s request for summary judgment). A motion for summary judgment is granted when there is no genuine issue as to material fact and a judgment as a matter of law is appropriate. La. C.C.P. art. 966. This essentially means that the dispute does not hinge on determining whether facts are true or false, but instead hinges on whether elements of the law have been met using the facts that both parties agree to be true.

On February 12, 2015, Lee Edmison fell down an escalator at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino and sustained severe injuries. Mr. Edmison’s blood alcohol content was 0.244 at the time of injury, three times Louisiana’s legal limit for driving. Mr. Edmison brought a lawsuit against Caesars Entertainment, the owner of Harrah’s, and Schindler, the manufacturer and servicer of the escalator.

asphalt-automobile-automotive-125514-1024x576The “burden of proof” may be a familiar concept to everyone, even those inexperienced with the courts.  The idea is that the party in a lawsuit holding the “burden of proof” is tasked with providing evidence that reaches the level of proof required to meet the burden.  In car accidents, where amount of fault decides how damages may be determined, this burden is especially important. The evidence in some car accidents makes the division extremely obvious, both as to fault and to extent of damage.  Other cases, however, especially when the accident is relatively minor, may not be so clear cut. In an unpublished opinion, the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal considered such a case where the burden of proof was the main issue.  

In 2014, Meagan Lemoine was driving a truck owned by the father of her children near Marksville, LA.  With her were her young children and her sister. She had stopped at a traffic light when she was rear-ended by a white Jeep.  No one in the car was able to identify the driver of the Jeep. After stopping to assess the damage to her vehicle, Ms. Lemoine followed the Jeep to a nearby AutoZone where the driver, a woman, exited the vehicle and entered the store.  Ms. Lemoine took pictures of the Jeep. Later that afternoon, she reported the accident to the local police. A few months later, the owner of the Jeep, Lionel Augustine, and his wife received a letter from tMs. Lemoine’s attorney regarding the accident.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Augustine denied they had been involved in an accident on that date. Mrs. Augustine claimed she had driven that day and visited AutoZone, but denied being in an accident. They both pointed out that there had been no damage visible on the Jeep.  The insurance agent for the Augustines spoke about damage in the form of a “black smudge” on the front of the vehicle, but it did not match the position of the trailer hitch on the truck Ms. Lemoine was driving. The trial court eventually ruled in favor of Ms. Lemoine and her sister.  Both parties appealed.

In Louisiana, the burden of proof is upon the person seeking damages in a lawsuit. Big D Dirt Servs., Inc. v. Westwood, Inc, 653 So.2d 604, 609 (La. Ct. App. 1995)  This means the party must show enough evidence to convince the finder of fact in a case, whether it be jury or the judge, that the allegations of damage are factual.  While both sides seemed to be telling what they believed to be the truth, their stories were completely contradictory. The Third Circuit considered the facts and how the trial court had handled them.  The fact that there was white paint on the truck’s trailer hitch after the accident seemed to indicate that an accident had occurred. Also, the court considered that the heavy traffic in the area at the time made it very likely that such an accident could easily occur, and that a driver might not actually be aware they have hit another vehicle.  The Third Circuit considered that the plaintiffs had observed the accident and were able to track the same Jeep. There was also uncontroverted evidence that Mrs. Augustine was in the area that day. With this evidence, Ms. Lemoine and her sister met the burden of proof that both the accident occurred and Mrs. Augustine was the responsible party. Although Mrs. Augustine disputed the evidence, the Third Circuit held that the trial court’s ruling was reasonable.  The Third Circuit does not have to determine that the trial court was right or wrong, just whether or not the decision was a reasonable one given the evidence. Rosell v. Esco, 549 So. 2d 840 (La.  1989).

asphalt-automobile-automotive-125514-1024x576Most of us have been either in an accident or know someone who has, and it’s never fun. Damage to your car, bodily injuries, and legal repercussions can drag out for years after the accident. Kodie Courville was sitting in his car in the CVS parking lot on the corner of Youngsville Highway and West Pinhook Road, when Efrem Ross’ truck and trailer struck Courville’s vehicle, after being struck by Patricia Francis’ vehicle. Shortly before the turn into CVS, one lane becomes four. Francis was in the first lane, intending to turn right into CVS. Ross was in the lane to her right. Francis turned right, not realizing there were more lanes to her right side, and slammed into the side of Ross’ truck causing Ross to swerve into the CVS parking lot and hit Courville. 

Courville’s wife, Brooke, was also in the vehicle when it was struck. Kodie sustained major injuries as a result of the accident and petitioned the court for damages, naming as defendants: Patricia Francis, Francis’ insurer, Allstate Insurance Company; Efrem Ross; Ross’ employer, Whitco; and Whitco’s insurer, Lexington Insurance Company. Brooke Courville also brought a loss of consortium claim. A loss of consortium claim is one seeking compensation for damages for loss of enjoyment/livelihood with an injured spouse. The jury ultimately returned a judgment in favor of the Courvilles awarding $3,000,000 to Kodie and $21,000 to Brooke.

The defendants appealed, and Lexington claimed the trial court had erred in not allowing the jury to see plaintiff’s original Petition for Damages even though it was admitted as evidence with no objection. The appellate court decided allowing the jury to view the Petition for Damages without allowing it to also view the amended Petition for Damages would be more burdensome than probative for the court. La. C.C.P. art. 1795(B)

46-1024x575Buying a house and later discovering that the house has foundational defects is a nightmare every homeowner seeks to avoid. Even more unpleasant is to find out that you do not have any recourse against the seller. The nature of such recourse would partially depend on when the defects were discovered, but also whether the seller is a builder, contractor, or manufacturer, because such a status might extend the timeframe of bringing in an action against the seller.

Penny Duplechien acquired a house from sellers Edward George Ackal and his wife in 2005. In 2012, Penny (plaintiff) discovered foundational defects and the next year filed a lawsuit against the sellers. In her cause of action, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants designed and constructed the house. In response, the defendants argued that even if they did construct the house (but they did not), plaintiff was late filing the lawsuit. This argument is based on the exception of peremption in the New Home Warranty Act (NHWA). This exception provides for only a five-year warranty for structural defect cases. La.R.S. 9:3144(A)(3).

In response, the plaintiff asserted that defendants should not even be allowed to use the five-year warranty limitation because Mr. Ackal supposedly lied to the plaintiff about being a licensed contractor. Specifically, the plaintiff said that the defendant purposely held himself out as a manufacturer, and thus it should not be her fault that she did not know better.

38-1024x678In Louisiana, if someone does work to your home and you find the work to have been completed unsatisfactorily, you have a one-year prescription period to bring the issue to court. However, what does one do if problems from this work do not appear right away? Considering the statute that allows a one-year prescription period at the first notice of damage, what exactly is noticing damage? Is it formally reporting the issue or simply remarking on an observation?  The Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided a case on appeal from Jefferson Parish that answered such questions. 

In early 2010, Carlos Caballero Castro contacted Omar Oceguera from Triple OH Shoring, Inc. about fixing the elevation of the Caballero home. Mr. Oceguera recommended Keystone Custom Homes, LLC to Mr. Caballero, and as a result Mr. Caballero made a deal with Keystone to fix the elevation of the Caballero home. However, Mr. Oceguera would remain the general contractor of the project – he would design the foundation plan and Keystone would implement the plan. The work was completed on the home on November 20, 2010 and at the time the work was completed Mr. Caballero said the job was well done.

In January 2011, Mr. Caballero decided to build a deck on the back of his house. When he began to build the deck, he noticed there was two-inch dip in the slab – at the time Mr. Caballero rationalized the dip to simply be either the house settling or evidence of poor craftsmanship. However, Mr. Caballero stated that there was no apparent damage to his home at that time. A few days later, Mr. Caballero decided to call Keystone and inform them of the dip. He also told Keystone that since the work had been completed he and his family has heard popping noises, but that he thought these noises were a normal byproduct of the house setting. 

28-1024x683Arbitration is a matter of contract. Parties to an arbitration agreement contract on matters they agree to submit to arbitration. That agreement defines the extent to which the parties are subject to the authority of arbitrator, and such authority corresponds to the boundaries set in the agreement. This case is an example of an attempt to enlarge those boundaries and of the consequences of such attempt.

Jacob Chandler sued his business partner in East Baton Rouge and decided to hire attorney Preis Gordon to represent him. They entered into a written agreement that had a “Fee Contract,” which contained an arbitration clause. Soon after the completion of the lawsuit for which Chandler hired Gordon, it was Gordon who filed a petition in the East Baton Rouge Parish District Court against Chandler seeking a payment of legal fees. Soon the matter was directed to an arbitrator, in accordance with the arbitration clause in the agreement. The arbitrator denied Gordon his claims for legal fees and awarded attorney and expert witness fees totaling altogether almost $43,000 to Chandler.

Chandler contended that Section 10 of the Fee Contract provided the basis for arbitrator’s award. In particular, it that “Client further agrees that any award by arbitrator shall include the costs and expenses of the arbitration, including attorneys’ fees actually incurred.” Based on this, the arbitrator awarded Chandler attorney fees, finding that the Fee Contract provided for prevailing party to recover attorney fees.

53-819x1024When driving at night, it is always important to make sure your vehicle lights are working, not just so you can see, but also so others can see you. Not only can this simple task avoid an accident, but failure to do so can get you in trouble with the law.

One night in March 2014, Mr. Roland Lege was driving on Highway 91 near Garden City, Louisiana, when he got into an accident with a tractor-trailer driven by Mr. Milton Livas. Mr. Lege claimed that the trailer was swaying back and forth from the right lane to the left and that the brake lights were not working, preventing Mr. Lege from seeing it properly. The Sixteenth Judicial District Court in the Parish of St. Mary, Louisiana heard the case that followed from the accident.

According to Louisiana law, trailers like the one Mr. Livas was driving must have lighted tail lamps displayed when the natural light is insufficient for others to see the trailer from five hundred feet. La. R.S. 32:301(A)(1) & (2). Mr. Lege, on the other hand, had a duty to not follow another motor vehicle more closely than is reasonable. La. R.S. 32:81(A). In rear-ending the trailer, there is a presumption that Mr. Lege was negligently driving too closely to it; however, he may rebut this presumption by proving he was driving at a safe distance or by showing that Mr. Livas was driving negligently and created a hazard that could not be reasonably avoided.

55What would it take for an appellate court to overturn an award of damages? According to the Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, the bar is set high and very rarely does an award for damages get overturned as long as it’s reasonable. Lafayette Motors employed Mr. Menard as a service advisor. In August 2003, Dr. Stroy came to Lafayette Motors to obtain a copy of the repair estimate for his wife’s car. While Menard made a copy of the estimate, the shop manager instructed Menard not to give the estimate to Dr. Stroy. Menard crumpled up the estimate to place it in the trash; however his right wrist was grabbed and twisted by Dr. Stroy. Dr. Story proceeded to take the estimate and leave the premises with it. Menard had injuries to his wrist and arm and was later diagnosed with tendinitis by an orthopedic surgeon. Almost ten years later, Menard testified he still had pain in his wrist.

A year after the incident occurred, Menard filed a petition for damages. His petition alleged that Dr. Stroy’s actions were the proximate cause of his injuries, and he wanted damages for the medical bills he incurred at the time of the incident. Dr. Story filed an answer to the petition, as well as petitioning for reconventional demand alleging Menard made public statements that were slanderous and defamatory. He further alleged that these statements caused him to suffer embarrassment, humiliation, and mental anguish. Menard filed a motion to strike or dismiss the reconventional demand, and the court granted the motion. Menard then added Dr. Stroy’s insurance company as a defendant, and they responded by saying that the police did not provide coverage for that particular incident. The insurance company filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court denied it. A bench trial was held, and the court ruled in favor of Menard and awarded him $3,000 in general damages and $3,048 in special damages for the medical expenses from August 2003 to November 2003.

The standard of review, in this case, is really what this case turns on and, in this case, there is broad discretion owed to the trier of fact when it comes to fixing awards for general damages. See Hollenbeck v. Oceaneering Int., Inc., 685 So.2d 163 (La. 1997). Unless the record shows that a factual and reasonable basis does not exist and the finding is wrong or erroneous, an appellate court should not disturb a finding of fact. See Thibodeaux v. Comeaux, 69 So.3d 674, 679 (La. App. Ct. 2011).

28-Email-06_24_19-picturePublic entities are treated as private entities when it comes to slip and fall situations. They must abide by a liability standard when a customer or employee slip and fall on their premises. The standard gives the public entity responsibility for things that they control. The standard is similar to the standard used in cases of slip and fall. In this case, the court considered whether a slip and fall on a public entity’s premises can lead to liability. 

  The Grotes were at a conference at the River Center Convention Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when Mrs. Grote tripped and fell on an elevation of one inch between two concrete walkway near the entrance of the River Center. After the incident, the Grotes filed a petition for damages against SMG, Federal Insurance Co., and the City of Baton Rouge. They argued that the defendants were liable for damages from the injury. The Grotes then filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the defect in the sidewalk was unreasonably dangerous. After the Grotes’ summary judgment, the City filed a summary judgment stating that the sidewalk was not unreasonably dangerous and was open and obvious. 

In cases of slip and falls with a public entity, a motion for summary judgment is properly granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions show that there are no genuine issues as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The mover bears the burden of proving that he is entitled to summary judgment. He has the responsibility to demonstrate the absence of factual support for one or more essential elements of his opponent’s claim. La. C.C.P. art. 966. If the mover fails to prove his burden, the burden never shifts to the adverse party, and the mover is not entitled to summary judgment. LeBlanc v. Bouchereau Oil Co., Inc., 15 So. 3d 152 (La. Ct. App. 2009).