ear-1419038-905x1024This afternoon a lawsuit was filed by the Berniard Law Firm and Martzell, Bickford and Centola Law firm on behalf of Yuri M. Johnson against the 3M Company in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The Plaintiff, Yuri M. Johnson, is a US Army combat veteran. During his time with the Army, he was stationed at Jackson Barracks located at New Orleans, Louisiana. Yuri was deployed overseas in Iraq in 2005, deployed to Camp Shelby in Mississippi in 2007 and also was deployed to a base in Michigan, in 2009. Yuri alleges that while serving with the army he was supplied defective dual-ended Combat Arms™ earplugs to protect his hearing.

Unfortunately, the earplugs supplied to Yuri during his time with the army were the same earplugs that were the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit that alleged the earplugs contained a dangerous design defect. The whistleblower lawsuit went on to allege that when the earplug is used the way it is supposed to be used it can become loose in the ear canal which leads to a failure to provide hearing protection. As a result of that whistleblower lawsuit, the Defendant 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it supplied the United States with defective dual-ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs. See United States of America ex rel. Moldex-Metric, Inc. v. 3M Company;

As a result of using these earplugs during combat and training, Mr. Johnson alleges that he continues to suffer daily from tinnitus, hearing loss, and other damages. According to the allegations of the lawsuit, 3M employees were aware of the defects as early as 2000, several years before 3M/Aearo became the exclusive provider of the earplugs to the military. The lawsuit goes on to state, that despite this knowledge, in 2003, Aearo submitted a bid in response to the military’s Request for Proposal to supply large quantities of these defective earplugs and entered into a contract pursuant to which it became the exclusive supplier of earplugs to the military.

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In May of 2016, a groundbreaking whistleblower lawsuit was filed against the 3M company. In this lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant 3m sold defective earplugs (hearing protection) to the United States government for more than a decade. The lawsuit alleged that not only were these defective earplugs sold to the government but the allegations in the lawsuit were that 3M knew of the defect during the time they were sold. The earplugs were sold the United States government for use by the armed services from 2003 to 2015.

The lawsuit went on to claim that the earplugs were standard issued dual-ended Combat Arms™ brand that was issued to branches of the military service during times of combat. Due to the defect, the lawsuit alleged that it could have caused significant hearing loss to thousands of soldiers during the relevant time period. If a member of the armed services has hearing loss that they contracted during their time while serving the country the United States ultimately is on the hook for their medical cost related to the hearing loss. Therefore, the lawsuit alleged that these earplugs could end up costing the United States government through the Veterans Affairs medical treatment system millions or even billions of dollars for treatment related to hearing loss and tinnitus. The allegations of this lawsuit were absolutely shocking and justice must be sought for these claims.

On July 25, 2018, 3M settled with the United States for the claims made in the whistleblower lawsuit. 3M did not admit any of the allegations made in that lawsuit, but they did agree to pay over nine million dollars to end the litigation. The Justice Department of the United States put out a press release after the settlement stating that they are committed to using the False Claims Act to protect the taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse. The Berniard Law Firm applauds the Justice Department in the prosecution of all whistleblower claims.

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.