empty-hall-2-1545642-1-1024x607For a plaintiff to prove a negligence case, he or she must prove, among other things, that the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff. See La. C.C. art. 2315 (2016). Often, this element of negligence is overlooked and taken for granted which can lead to dismissal of the plaintiff’s case. A recent Louisiana Court of Appeal case out of the Third Circuit illustrates the importance of proving duty in a negligence case.

The case centers around the suicide of Lelia Shelvin while in Lafayette Parish County Sheriff custody. Sheriff Mike Neustrom arrested Ms. Shelvin for aggravated battery with a dangerous weapon. Sheriff Neustrom then took Ms. Shelvin to Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. While at the center, Ms. Shelvin committed suicide. Ms. Shelvin’s estate filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Neustrom, alleging that Sheriff Neustrom was at fault for Ms. Shelvin’s suicide.

At trial, Sheriff Neustrom filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that he had no duty to Ms. Shelvin because her suicide was a “sudden and completely unpredictable event.” A motion for summary judgment asks the court to decide a case before going to trial, so long as all material facts are agreed upon by the parties. The trial court granted Sheriff Neustrom’s motion for summary judgment, ruling in favor of Sheriff Neustrom. Ms. Shelvin’s estate, disagreeing with the trial court, appealed the decision.

hieroglyph-1226853-715x1024The death of a loved one is always an emotionally difficult time. But the loved one’s death also creates many obligations and legal requirements that the deceased successors must accomplish. Often, these processes can be complex and may lead to litigation, especially when money is involved. A recent court case out of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal for Louisiana illustrates these problems.

The case surrounds the life insurance policy of Triston Knoll. Mr. Knoll obtained a life insurance agreement and named his then-wife, Tina Knoll, and their minor child, Andree Knoll, as the primary beneficiaries (the individuals who would receive the payment made upon the death of Mr. Knoll pursuant to the life insurance agreement). The life insurance agreement was designed to pay Andree two-thirds and Ms. Knoll one-third of the total life insurance policy amount. Years after Mr. Knoll obtained the life insurance policy, Ms. Knoll and himself filed and were granted, a divorce. Mr. Knoll passed two years after the divorce.

Upon the death of Mr. Knoll, Ms. Knoll and Andree were supposed to receive the insurance policy payment because both were still both named primary beneficiaries. Andree’s biological mother, Andrienne Theriot, contested the insurance policy payment, arguing that prior to Mr. Knoll’s death he intended to name Ms. Theriot as a beneficiary and therefore Ms. Theriot was entitled to some of the life insurance proceeds. This controversy was brought before a federal district court where the court ruled that Ms. Knoll and Andree were entitled to all of the proceeds from the life insurance policy. While fighting the litigation in federal district court, Ms. Knoll and Andree entered into an agreement where Andree would receive the all of the life insurance proceeds and that those proceeds would be placed in a trust. However, after their success in the federal district court, Ms. Knoll argued that she did not intend to give up her right to some of the life insurance proceeds. Ms. Knoll then decided to file a claim in Louisiana district court.

vacancy-1232656-1024x768Ever feel like you have been wrongfully brought to court? If so, then what legal remedies do you have at your disposal? In Louisiana, the law provides a person who has wrongly been brought to court with a tort cause of action called abuse of process. A recent Fifth Circuit Louisiana Court of Appeal decision highlights some of the procedural and legal requirements for this lesser known tort.

The alleged “frivolous” lawsuit centers around an eviction lawsuit. Allicen and Kenneth Caluda filed an eviction lawsuit against Fifth Business, LLC (“Fifth Business”). In the lawsuit, the Caludas also added No Drama, LLC (“No Drama”) as a defendant. Nearly seven years after the eviction lawsuit, No Drama filed an abuse of process lawsuit. To prove an abuse of process claim, No Drama needed to prove 1) the Caludas sued No Drama for an improper purpose and 2) the Caludas engaged in improper conduct during the prosecution of the action. See Goldstein v. Serio, 496 So. 2d 412, 415 (La. Ct. App. 1986). No Drama alleged the Caludas improperly filed suit in order to hold the company financially liable for the couple’s lease dispute with Fifth Avenue. It also claimed that the cost of defending the lawsuit, after informing the couple of its independent status, forced it to halt operations. The Caludas’ countered, arguing that No Drama was prescribed from bringing the abuse of process claim because it failed to file the claim within the appropriate time period required by Louisiana law which, for an abuse of process claim, is one year. The trial court agreed with the Caludas, dismissing No Drama’s lawsuit. No Drama appealed the trial court’s ruling.

On appeal, No Drama argued that the prescription period never commenced because the underlying eviction case needed to be decided prior to it bringing the abuse of process lawsuit. No Drama also argued the prescription period was suspended because Caludas was committing a “continuous tort.” A continuous tort is an ongoing unlawful course of conduct that results in uninterrupted injury to the plaintiff. Crump v. Sabine River Auth., 737 So.2d 720, 728 (La. 1999). No Drama alleged the Caludas, by maintaining a wrongful lawsuit and causing ongoing financial injury, committed a continuous tort and therefore, the prescription period was suspended or tolled as a result.

books-illustations-1489534-768x1024Labor contracts are often tricky and scary because potential employees generally find it difficult to negotiate with employers for terms favorable to them, while employers use standard contracts with terms potential employees don’t understand or aren’t used to seeing, which guarantee the employers a better deal.

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), whose purpose is to provide protection to employees from unfair labor practices of employers, provides that an employer commits an unfair labor practice when it coerces or prevents employees from engaging in their legal rights, including, but not limited to, the rights of employees to band together in a union or otherwise. A recent case out of the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (“the Court”) addressed this problem in a labor contract case between a retail gas station and its employee.

Murphy Oil Inc. (“Murphy Oil”) operates retail gas stations in many cities in the United States, but the following dispute takes place at the Calera, Alabama location. Sheila Hobson, upon starting employment with Murphy Oil, was required to sign a binding arbitration agreement—an agreement which prevented herself and other employees working at this location from settling any disputes with management by any means other than arbitration—a process which would require both employee and employer to meet with a professional mediator for all legal claims.

horse-nose-1575359-1024x681Think before you act. We have all heard this advice. But, thinking before you act can be difficult. Sometimes, emotions and the heat of the moment prompt you to react before you think. A common example of this occurrence is in road rage altercations. It is easy to get upset when you get cut off or a person pulls out in front of you. But the legal ramifications of acting on those emotions can be dire. A recent case out of the First Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana illustrates one type of legal consequence that could happen when emotion turns to violence.

It all began in Ascension Parish when Clifford Barr, driving his pickup truck, attempted to make a left turn into a parking lot. Mr. Barr’s left turn was blocked by Ray Schexnayder, who was trying to make a left turn out of the parking lot’s entrance. As Mr. Barr attempt to make the left hand turn into the parking lot, Mr. Schexnayder simultaneously exited the parking lot, turning left as well. Both vehicles narrowly escaped hitting each other. After the near miss, both Mr. Barr and Mr. Schexnayder started exchanging words. This conversation quickly became heated. Mr. Barr, after exchanging words, continued into the parking lot. Mr. Schexnayder followed Mr. Barr into the parking lot. While in the parking lot, Mr. Schexnayder exited his pickup truck, proceeded to Mr. Barr’s vehicle, and then stuck his head through the open window of Mr. Barr’s vehicle. At this point, the facts are unclear. Both Mr. Barr and Mr. Schexnayder claim that the other person threw a punch. Regardless of who punched first, a fight ensued. In the fight, Mr. Barr sustained a nose injury when Mr. Schexnayder bit Mr. Barr on the nose.

Mr. Barr filed a lawsuit against Mr. Schexnayder for damages he sustained in the parking lot altercation. At trial, the trial court awarded damages in the amount of $25,005.00 to Mr. Barr. The trial court found Mr. Barr to be a more credible witness and believed Mr. Barr’s story that Mr. Schexnayder threw the first punch. Mr. Schexnayder, disagreeing with the trial courts determination, appealed its decision.

shaking-hands-1240911-1024x768Leasing agreements often are complex and lengthy, especially in a commercial context. A common provision contained in most leasing agreements is an indemnity provision. An indemnity provision is a section in a leasing agreement that requires the leasee (the person who leases the property) to take responsibility for certain lawsuits involving the leased property. A recent decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeal for Louisiana illustrates the power of an indemnity provision.

The case revolves around a leased commercial building located in Bastrop, Louisiana. The building’s owner, Hollis Charles Larche, entered into a leasing agreement with Paul Eikert. Mr. Eikert obtained the lease in order to open up a grocery store. Contained in the lease is a provision that stated that Mr. Larche would be held harmless for any damages or injuries caused by defects on the building’s premises.

A couple of years after entering into the lease agreement, an employee of Mr. Eikert’s grocery store, Deborah Beebe, was injured while on the job. Ms. Beebe sustained her injuries after she slipped on water that came from a leak in the building’s ceiling. Ms. Beebe filed a lawsuit against Mr. Larche claiming that Mr. Larche knew of the leaking ceiling and failed to take appropriate measures to fix the leak. Mr. Larche, citing the indemnity provision contained in the leasing agreement, argued that Mr. Eikert is responsible for any damages resulting from Ms. Beebe’s injury. Mr. Eikert never responded to Mr. Larche’s claim that the indemnity provision allocated responsibility of Ms. Beebe’s injuries to Mr. Eikert. The trial court agreed, granting a default judgment on the issue for Mr. Larche. A default judgment is a judgment that a court can grant if one side in a legal matter fails to take steps to resolve the legal controversy. The default judgment is granted to the side who did take steps to resolve the legal controversy, in this case, Mr. Larche.

entering-arkansas-1215127-1024x671Workers’ compensation provides an avenue for workers injured on the job to receive the compensation a worker deserves. But what happens when a resident of one state is injured while working for a company in another state? A recent case out of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal for Louisiana addressed this issue when a Monroe, Louisiana worker, working for an Arkansas company, was injured in Mississippi.

Levi Williams was injured in Mississippi while driving a truck for Morris Transportation, Inc. (“Morris Transportation”), an Arkansas company. After the accident, Mr. Williams applied for and was granted, workers’ compensation benefits in Arkansas. Those benefits went away after Morris Transportation released Mr. Williams from work. Subsequently, Mr. Williams sought workers’ compensation benefits in Louisiana. Morris Transportation contested Mr. Williams’s request and the matter went before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”). At a hearing, the WCJ ruled in favor of Mr. Williams, holding that Mr. Williams was entitled to Louisiana workers’ compensation benefits. Under Louisiana law, an injured employee is entitled to workers’ compensation when injured while working outside the state if the employment contract is made in Louisiana. La. R.S. 23:1035.1 (2016). The WCJ found that the contract, in this case, was made in Louisiana and therefore, Mr. Williams was entitled to Louisiana workers’ compensation benefits. Morris Transportation, disagreeing with the WCJ’s assessment, appealed the decision.

On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal examined whether the employment contract between Mr. Williams occurred in Louisiana. Both Mr. Williams and Morris Transportation dispute the facts surrounding the formation of the employment contract According to Mr. Williams, he previously worked for Morris Transportation, but left to work for another employer. A little while after Mr. Williams left Morris Transportation, he called Morris Transportation and was told by an employee that he could come back and work for his former employer. Mr. Williams claimed that during this call he was told by by Morris Transportation that he could “come back.” Mr. Williams testified that the day after the phone call he drove, signed a driver qualification form, and began to working. Morris Transportation, conversely, argued that the phone conversation between Mr. Williams and itself did not form a contract. It claimed that the phone conversation could not constitute an employment contract because Mr. Williams had not gone through the employment process required before Morris Transportation hires an employee.

winter-road-1347950-1024x768We all make mistakes, and, if lucky, are presented with the opportunity to fix them. The same principle can be said for an error in a money damage determination. When a party to a lawsuit believes that the jury or trial court erred in its damage award decision, the party has the ability to appeal. A recent court case out of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal for Louisiana discusses the requirements that are needed to overturn a money damage determination.

The case involves a car accident involving Holly Swayze. Ms. Swayze suffered multiple injuries from the accident and accumulated a sizable amount of medical bills. As a result of the injuries and medical bills, Ms. Swayze filed a lawsuit. At trial, Ms. Swayze testified that prior to the accident she lived without physical limitations. But after the accident, she started experiencing neck and back pain. To alleviate her pain, Ms. Swayze tried self-help and physical therapy, but those treatments only mitigated, not solved, her pain problem. This attempt to alleviate her pain cost Ms. Swayze $12,700.04 in medical bills.

Ms. Swayze’s primary physician, Dr. Coleman, also testified at trial. Dr. Coleman testified that he had been treating Ms. Swayze for ten to twelve years and had no records of her complaining about neck and back pain. He also recalled that Ms. Swayze complained of numbness in her right arm after the accident. Dr. Coleman also testified that Ms. Swayze did suffer from a genetic bone disease and that Ms. Swayze took medication for this condition. Dr. Coleman further explained that those who suffer from this condition normally do not experience any symptoms until they endure an aggravating injury.

downtown-salt-lake-city-2-1446473-683x1024Buying a home is a complex and stressful process. Not only must a homebuyer make sure he or she has the required funds to purchase the home, but must also thoroughly check that the home is in good condition. Generally, determining the condition of a home is relatively easy. Under the law, a home-seller is obligated to disclose certain defects. Failure to do so can result in a lawsuit. A recent case from the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates the legal repercussions that can befall a home-seller when he or she withholds certain deficiencies in the condition of the home.

The case centers around a home purchased in Bossier City, Louisiana. The home-purchaser, Britney N. Jones bought a foreclosed house from Wells Fargo Bank (“Wells Fargo”). After purchasing the house, Ms. Jones discovered that it contained mold. The mold was discovered after an environmental assessment of the property. The assessment was undertaken because Ms. Jones’s children had developed respiratory and other health issues.

After discovering that the home she purchased contained mold, Ms. Jones brought a lawsuit against Wells Fargo alleging claims of redhibition and fraud. In Louisiana, a seller warrants a buyer against redhibitory defects. For a defect to be considered redhibitory it must render the thing useless or diminish its value in such a way that it could be presumed that the buyer would have not bought it or would have bought it at a much lower price. La. C.C. art. 2520 (2016). Defects that a buyer either knew of or that were apparent are excluded from the warranty of redhibition. When a defect is concealed within a home’s structure it is considered unapparent. See Amend v. McCabe, 664 So. 2d 1183 (La. 1995).

container-barge-1238820-1024x321The fate of a claim brought under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”) is often determined based upon the weight the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) gives certain evidence. But how should the ALJ weigh conflicting evidence from different sources? This question was recently addressed by the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Petron Industries Inc. v. Courville.

Ryan Courville suffered injuries to his thoracic spine while lifting equipment aboard a barge. Because of how Mr. Courville sustained his injury, he was eligible for compensation under the LHWCA. Soon after the injury, Mr. Courville sought medical treatment from multiple different doctors in an effort to alleviate the pain caused by his spinal injury. His initial treating physician recommended physical therapy but did not think surgery was necessary at the time. Mr. Courville, because of his continued pain, sought a second opinion. Mr. Courville’s second physician recommended more physical therapy and prescription medication. Still experiencing pain, Mr. Courville sought a third opinion. Mr. Courville’s third physician, a pain management specialist, tried additional physical therapy, which proved equally unsuccessful. Mr. Courville was then referred back to his second physician who ultimately recommended surgery.

Under the LHWCA, “[o]nce an employee establishes that his injury was work-related, he is entitled to all reasonable and necessary medical expenses related to that injury.” Amerada Hess Corp. v. Director, 543 F.3d 755, 761 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing 33 U.S.C.A. § 907 (2015)). Mr. Courville asked for Petron Industries and American Home Insurance’s (collectively, “the Petitioners”) to pay for the surgery pursuant to the LHWCA. Disagreeing that surgery was necessary, the Petitioners sought additional medical opinions. The Petitioners’ first physician opined that it was “more likely than not” that surgery would be needed. The Petitioners’ second physician stated that surgery would not be needed and that Mr. Courville could return to a “medium duty” job.