car-accident-5-1426862-1024x768After a motor vehicle collision occurs, a court will assign each driver involved a standard of care they were required to maintain. Drivers under Louisiana law are usually subject to ordinary care when driving their vehicle. However, under the law, certain motorists are held to a higher standard or are favored to have less liability if an accident occurs. This differentiation in standards was recently highlighted when a garbage truck was hit by a pickup driving on a three-lane road while pulling out of a Burger King exit.

On August 10, 2009, an accident occurred at the intersection of Carrollton and Tulane Avenue, which has a complicated set-up of four lanes that travel east, three for traffic and one for a bus stop, and three lanes that travel west separated by a concrete median. Gregory Hicks, a garbage truck driver, attempted to cross all four eastbound lanes in order to make a turn onto the westbound lanes, but while doing so his truck blocked all eastbound lanes. The garbage truck, which was owned by Hicks’ employer, IESI LA Corporation, was subsequently struck by a pickup truck driven by Bazzell Hamdan. Hamdan, all of the passengers, and the owner of the pickup truck filed lawsuits against Hicks and IESI. The cases were consolidated and the matters that weren’t settled went to trial in Orleans Parish.

The issues at trial involved the liability of both the defendants and plaintiffs and the damages suffered by the plaintiffs, which included personal injury claims and a property damage claim. The district court found Hicks 100% at fault and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded general damages (pain and suffering) and special damages (medical expenses and insurance policy deductible) in the amount of: $37,000 general and $11,023.38 special to Hamdan, $36,000 general and $12,786.57 special to a passenger and $500 special to the vehicle owner.  

old-family-photos-1423774-1024x768As individuals approach the end of their life or encounter health problems, they may utilize a general power of attorney (POA) in order to care for their property. A POA is a written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or some other legal matter. The individual executing the POA is the principal and the individual acting under the POA is the principal’s agent. Dealing with a POA can be difficult since it is usually exercised during a stressful period in the principal’s life. Recently, the issue of using a POA was made even more complicated when it stirred up family drama in the Parish of Lincoln District Court after an agent used the POA to transfer all of the principal’s property into his own account days prior to the principal’s death.   

Kimberly Pee Tatum, Roy Pee, Timothy Pee and Raymond Pee filed a lawsuit against Joseph Daniel Riley in order to void a gift that Riley donated to himself. Riley was the son of Barbara McManus’ second marriage and the plaintiffs were the children of McManus’ first marriage. Riley acted as McManus’ agent under a POA, with McManus as the principal. On January 30, 2006, Riley donated all of McManus’ immovable property, including 32 acres and a house, to himself.  This was done before a notary and witnessed by two witnesses. McManus passed away days later, on February 2, 2006.

At trial, the plaintiffs attempted to show that Riley’s donation left McManus without sufficient funds to care for herself. The plaintiffs presented bills to show that there was no way McManus could care for herself but the plaintiffs admitted these bills were not actually McManus’ bills; the bills presented were from the plaintiffs’ memory and by looking at what was paid by other single, older women. Additionally, Riley testified that he and McManus shared a joint checking account. McManus received $1,037 dollars from Social Security every month and $100 dollars in royalties that were deposited into the shared account. Riley testified that even though they shared an account, McManus paid her own bills and Riley even supported McManus sometimes with his own money.  Riley’s wife, Amy Riley, testified and stated the same thing as Riley. She said McManus never asked them for money but they offered her money when they wanted to. Further, Amy said that even though they shared an account, Riley and herself paid for all of their bills from a separate account. The District Court in the Parish of Lincoln sided with Riley and held that the POA expressly authorized him to donate all of McManus’ property to any person, including himself.  The district court also held that public policy was not violated through the donation.  

motorcycle-stunt-1390738-1-1024x768Suffering through an accident is bad enough, but dealing with the aftermath of that accident can be even worse without the help of a great attorney. An often overlooked but critical step in dealing with the consequences of an accident is deciding who to include or exclude from a release, which is a contractual agreement in which one party agrees to give up their right to bring a claim against another party. As Trena and Thomas Garrison learned after their accident in Baton Rouge, a small oversight on a seemingly standard release could result in a substantial loss of potential recovery.

On April 21, 2010, the Garrisons were on their motorcycle driving down O’Neal Lane in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when Mr. Garrison lost control of the motorcycle and crashed. In the months following the accident, Mrs. Garrison released Mr. Garrison, his insurer State Farm Insurance, and all other persons, firms or corporations from any and all claims resulting from the accident in exchange for $25,000.  

About one year later, the Garrisons filed a petition for damages against James Construction Group, LLC. The Garrisons alleged that the accident was caused by a large hole or trench in the road in an area that was under the custody of and being maintained by James Construction. On September 16, 2011, Mrs. Garrison signed an amended release that specifically reserved her rights to bring a claim against James Construction resulting from the April 21, 2010, accident.  

energy-1495365-1024x768After making a successful workers’ compensation claim, an insurer may make a subrogation claim, which is the right of an insurer to recover the amount paid out in a claim from a third party that caused the claim to occur. However, failure to properly reserve this right can affect an insurer’s right to recovery and possibly bar recovery altogether. A recent lawsuit in the Orleans Parish highlighted this fact.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, numerous workers were needed in order to restore Louisiana’s power grid. Mr. Scarberry was a former electrical lineman for Oklahoma Gas and Electric company (OGE). OGE is part of the Southeastern electrical Exchange (SEE), which is a nonprofit trade association composed of numerous utility companies that provide electricity throughout the U.S. Members in the SEE enter into Mutual Assistance Agreements, which govern relationships between requesting members and responding members. In this case, Entergy Gulf States Louisiana L.L.C. and Entergy Services, Inc. (collectively referred to as Entergy) requested the assistance of OGE in restoring power throughout Louisiana. As a result of this request, Mr. Scarberry began working for Entergy in Jennings, Louisiana under an agreement.  

During his efforts, Mr. Scarberry was severely electrocuted and became permanently disabled as a result of the accident with no chance for gainful employment in the future. Mr. Scarberry filed a lawsuit in July 2009 against Entergy. During this period, Mr. Scarberry received workers compensation from OGE in the amount of $150,162.49. OGE received reimbursement for these payments from Entergy, which was acknowledged with a “receipt” executed on August 1, 2011, pursuant to their agreement.  OGE also reserved their right to subrogation with the receipt.  

motel-sign-1258206-1024x768When a patron is injured by a third party at a hotel, the patron might wish to seek damages from a national franchisor. There are however several criteria to establish a franchisor’s liability making it very difficult for a patron to recover in the absence of direct links between the injury and negligence.  In a recent case out of New Orleans, a shooting victim was left with little recourse against the big company behind the local Motel 6.  

In this case, Jorge A. Espinosa was staying at the Motel 6 on Gentilly Boulevard in New Orleans, Louisiana when he was shot in the Motel’s parking lot. The armed robber entered the Motel’s parking lot through a missing section in the Motel’s fence.  Mr. Espinosa’s injuries left  Mr. Espinosa a paraplegic.  Mr. Espinosa filed a lawsuit against the national franchise, Accor Franchising North America (“Accor”) as well as the local franchisee, Century Bayou Hospitality, LLC (“Bayou”) and their respective insurance companies.  Mr. Espinosa claimed the missing section of the Motel’s fence led to the robber entering the property and shooting Mr. Espinosa.  The District Court for the Parish of Orleans granted Accor’s motion for summary judgment reasoning that Accor could not be held liable because there was no evidence that Accor controlled, owned, or operated the Motel.  Mr. Espinosa appealed to the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal asserting that Accor was directly negligent and that the company had authority over Bayou making them vicariously liable.     

To establish liability, a plaintiff must first show that the defendant had a duty to protect against the plaintiff’s injury.  To prove that defendant had a duty to protect against a property defect, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had custody over the thing which caused the damage and this thing contained a defect posing an unreasonable risk of harm which caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  See Wiley v. Sanders, 796 So. 2d 51, 55 (La. Ct. App. 2001).  The defective condition must be of a dangerous nature which would be reasonably expected to cause an injury to a prudent person using ordinary care.   A business has a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of its patrons.  However, this duty does not extend to unforeseeable injuries that were caused by the criminal acts of third parties.  See Mundy v. Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 609 So. 2d 909, 912 (La. Ct. App. 1992).  Moreover, vicarious liability will not apply to the principal when an independent contractor relationship exists and the principal actor does not control the contractor’s day to day operations. See Morales v. Davis Bros. Const. Co.,  647 So. 2d 1302, 1305 (La. Ct. App. 1994).   

misc-rig-oil-ship-yard-equipme-1468457-1024x768In the insurance industry, one of the most important issues to consider when determining whether a claim is covered under a policy is the wording of the contract. Whether it is home, auto, life, or, as in this case a marine insurance policy, the exact words of the contract will control whether or not a specific claim will be paid out. Equally important are the laws which will control how those words are interpreted. And in a recent case out of Louisiana, one insured was out of luck over the interpretation of one small word.  

In a recent Louisiana case, Union Oil Company of California, which owned an offshore drilling platform near the coast of Louisiana, contracted with Shaw Global Energy Services Inc. (“Shaw”) from Delcambre, Louisiana, to perform sandblasting and painting for the platform. In 2003, Michael Cash, an employee of Shaw, was injured by an employee of Max Welders, Inc. while being transferred by crane from a platform to a supply vessel. Mr. Cash filed a lawsuit against Max Welders, its primary insurance company, and its marine excess insurer, Liberty Insurance Underwriters, Inc. (“Liberty”).  During the course of the lawsuit, Liberty notified Max Welders that they were declining to cover the incident with Mr. Cash because the act of ferrying Mr. Cash to and from the platform fell under an exclusion in the excess insurance policy. The exclusion Liberty pointed to was a platform exclusion where they would not cover anything “arising out of the ownership, use or operation of . . . platforms.”  Max Welders, the primary insurer, and Mr. Cash settled for the policy limit of one million dollars. But because of the severity of Mr. Cash’s injuries, Max Welders agreed to pay an additional four hundred thousand dollars.

Max Welders brought a cross-claim against Liberty alleging the platform exclusion did not apply and that coverage should be extended to cover the four hundred thousand dollars in excess payment.  The United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana agreed with Max Welders that the platform exclusion did not apply because the word “use” in the insurance policy was ambiguous.  The District Court reasoned that because the transferring of Mr. Cash to the vessel was not within the intended purpose of an oil rig platform (extracting energy) that the exclusion did not apply and the insurance company had to pay Max Welders for the four hundred thousand dollars.  Liberty appealed to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.    

the-pig-1189462-1024x807When employees are fired they can often be entitled to benefits upon termination; including money payments to act as a substitute salary while the terminated employee searches for another job. While there is no federal requirement in the United States for an employer to offer severance pay, many do as it can be an attractive benefit to potential employees. Many employers choose to adopt a plan that falls under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”).  Employers can get tripped up however when they fail to support a denial of severance pay by substantial evidence.   

In this case, Mr. Napoli was denied severance pay because the company he worked for claimed that he was terminated for violating company policies. Mr. Napoli was hired by Scios, Inc. in 2001 which was subsequently acquired in 2003 by Johnson and Johnson. He enrolled in the severance pay plan through Johnson and Johnson. After he was terminated, Mr. Napoli filed for severance pay and was initially told he was eligible. However, Johnson and Johnson later denied his claim asserting that Mr. Napoli committed a “Group 1 Violation” and that he made around $3,000 in wrongful charges to a corporate credit card. Mr. Napoli, in a wise move, hired an attorney who subsequently applied for severance pay again and requested additional information about why the claim was denied. Johnson and Johnson again denied the claim and included the provision of the severance agreement Mr.Napoli allegedly violated. Mr. Napoli appealed through the corporation’s internal procedures in 2012 and the claim was denied again.  

Mr. Napoli filed a lawsuit in state court alleging that the company denied him benefits without just cause and that such an act violated ERISA. Johnson and Johnson responded by removing the case to federal court and counterclaiming for $3,000 in unauthorized credit card charges. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana agreed with Johnson and Johnson that the denial was based on a reasonable interpretation of the severance pay plan. Mr. Napoli appealed that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  

knee-x-ray-2-1562058-768x1024Workers’ compensation laws require companies to set aside a fund to pay their employees for work-related injuries. But what happens when the employer also has long-term disability insurance and the injured employee collects both workers’ compensation benefits as well as the employer-funded long-term disability benefits? Receiving benefits from the correct source of workers’ compensation income can prevent the headache of having to pay back thousands of dollars years later.   

A Parish of Caddo woman, Sheila Hill, was hired by Fresenius Medical Care NA (“FMC”) to work as a dialysis technician at its facility in Bossier City. She later began to experience tingling and numbness in her arms and began to see Dr. Clint McAlister, an orthopedist. Dr. McAlister diagnosed Ms. Hill with severe bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (“CTS”), which was caused or aggravated by her work duties. Dr. McAlister recommended release surgery. A second orthopedist, Dr. Michelle Ritter, concurred with Dr. McAlister’s diagnosis and treatment plan.

FMC accepted the claim as work-related and began paying Ms. Hill temporary total disability (“TTD”) benefits. Ms. Hill underwent two carpal tunnel release surgeries in 2012, which was performed by Dr. Michael Acurio. Dr. Acurio diagnosed Ms. Hill as suffering the degenerative joint disease of the left basilar joint along with ongoing residual CTS.  

wreck-1459986-1024x686In nearly every case of injury to person or property, there is a time period during which you can bring a lawsuit. When that time period ends is determined by statute. Defendants in cases where the time has past may bring an exception of prescription to have these cases dismissed. But how many times and when the exception of prescription may be raised is an issue that took center stage in an automobile accident case from  Jefferson Parish.

On May 8, 2008, Pauline Herrera filed a lawsuit against Beatrice Gallegos and USAgencies Casualty Insurance Company. Ms. Herrera alleged that her vehicle was struck by Ms. Gallegos’s vehicle on May 8, 2007. In response, Ms. Gallegos filed an exception of prescription and answer, alleging that the accident actually occurred on May 7, 2007, and Ms. Herrera’s lawsuit was filed beyond the one-year prescriptive period.

A hearing on the exception of prescription was held and no exhibits were admitted into evidence. The judge for the Parish Court of the Parish of Jefferson suggested the best way to find out the date of the accident was to call the Kenner Police Department. The judge overruled the exception for lack of sufficient evidence.

When a natural disaster strikes the issue of insurance comes to the forefront. What can a homeowner do when their home is damaged but the insurance company delays and fails to pay? That was the case when a Kenner, Louisiana, couple had their wood floors ruined by Hurricane Isaac. After taking the company to court, the family was finally able to recover claims for the damages as well as sanction the insurance company for the delay.

japanese-porch-tsumago-1228438-1024x768Russell and Tracy Varmall owned a home in Kenner, Louisiana. Their home sustained damages during Hurricane Isaac in 2012. The home was insured by Bankers Specialty Insurance Company (“Bankers”) for wind damage and New Hampshire Insurance Company for flood damage.

The Varmalls initially made claims to Bankers after the hurricane, which included damages to their roof and attic, water damage to their living room ceiling, damages to their fence, and a claim for spoiled food. These claims were adjusted in a timely fashion and were not an issue in the case.