54Slip and falls are one of the most common accidents in the United States.  Though some slip and falls may only lead to a sense of embarrassment, others can lead to permanent and serious damage to the body. Thus, it makes sense that an establishment owner should ensure that his or her establishment is safe. However, it is also important that people who visit an establishment should be responsible and not behave recklessly. In order to achieve this through law, Louisiana has an “open and obvious” doctrine, which states that an establishment is not responsible for people who were injured due to an open and obvious defect at the establishment. 

While out for some exercise at the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette, Wilson Trahan slipped and fell on a sidewalk, fracturing his right fibula. Trahan apparently slipped on a buildup of algae while trying to avoid a surface of water on the sidewalk. Trahan sued Acadiana Mall, but the district court dismissed his lawsuit. Trahan appealed, and the Court of Appeal ordered the district court to retake Trahan’s case for further proceedings. However, the district court ruled in favor of Acadiana Mall, holding that the algae buildup was open and obvious and that Trahan did not have a legitimate claim. Trahan appealed once more to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, arguing that the district court erred in using the open and obvious doctrine to rule in favor of Acadiana Mall. 

Under Louisiana law, an owner or custodian is responsible for a thing under his or her control and that an owner or custodian is responsible for any damage that the thing causes due to the negligence of the owner or custodian. La. C.C. art. 2317.1. For a plaintiff to successfully prove their claim, he or she must show: (1) that the defendant owned the thing that caused the damage; (2) that the thing had a defect and presented an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) that the defendant should have known about the defect; (4) that the defect could have been prevented if the defendant had taken reasonable care; and (5) that the defendant did not take reasonable care. Riggs v. Opelousas Gen. Hosp. Trust Auth., 997 So.2d 814 (La. App. Ct. 2008). However, if the defect is open and obvious, there is not an unreasonable risk of harm. Broussard v. State ex rel. Office of State Bldgs., 113 So.3d 175 (La. 2013)

58-Email-6-24-19--1024x681Lawsuits are typically thought of as only between two parties.  Frequently however, a lawsuit will involve multiple parties, such as with automobile accidents.  In these cases, it is common to assume that a large number of those involved are insurance companies.  The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal recently grappled with these multiparty lawsuits in a recent auto accident lawsuit out of Sulphur.   

In September of 2013, Amanda Douga was driving her car in Sulphur, Louisiana when she was rear-ended by Teenishia Powell.  Ms. Powell was driving a loaner vehicle while her personal vehicle was repaired by All Star Dealership (“All Star”). Ms. Douga sustained physical injuries from the accident and filed a lawsuit against Ms. Powell, her insurance company Progressive, as well as All Star and its insurance company Tower National.  Progressive admitted to providing Ms. Powell with the statutorily required minimums for liability coverage. Tower National and All Star denied that Ms. Powell was covered by Tower National’s policy and filed a motion for summary judgment. The District Court for the Parish of Calcasieu agreed with All Star and Tower National and granted the motion thus dismissing them from the case.  All remaining parties appealed.   

Tower National’s coverage denial centered on their definition and interpretation of who could be an insured party under the contract.   Tower National argued that the policy expressly excepted customers from the definition of an “insured” unless the customer did not have insurance or if their insurance did not meet the minimum legal requirements. The policy also provided however that exclusions did not apply when a vehicle was rented to a customer while their personal vehicle at the dealer for repair.   The appealing parties all agreed the policy was ambiguous on who exactly could be counted among the insureds.  

62-Email-06-24-19-picture-1024x768Running a small business is a challenging endeavor that can prove even more difficult if someone publishes false information about your company.  This is situation is exactly what happened to husband and wife Robbie and Susan Arnaud, owners of Robbie’s Wrecker Service, a towing business located just outside Eunice, Louisiana.

In fall 2010, Ronald Dies was elected Police Chief for City of Eunice, effective January 1, 2011.  Eunice Police Department’s rotation list for situations needing a wrecker service had previously included Robbie’s Wrecker Service. However, after being elected, Dies took action to remove Robbie’s Wrecker Service from the list. In a letter dated December 31, 2010, Dies told the Arnauds that their business would be removed from the list effective January 1, 2011, and that only wrecker services headquartered inside Eunice City limits could be on the list. On January 3, 2011, Dies spoke with a reporter for a local newspaper, The Eunice News, and stated that there had been numerous complaints about the company’s selective response to calls. This claim of “numerous complaints” formed the basis of Arnauds’ defamation claim. 

The required elements in a defamation claim are (1) a false and defamatory statement involving another, (2) an unprivileged publication to a third party, (3) fault (at least at the level of negligence) of the publisher; and (4) resulting injury. See Costello v. Hardy, 864 So.2d 129 (La. 2004).  At trial, the court held that the Arnauds had not proven either defamation or damages and dismissed all of the Arnauds’ claims against Dies. The Arnauds appealed.

49-Email-06-24-19-pictureIf you suffer an injury on the job, you will likely face a mess of medical bills. The last thing you want to think about is how you are going to pay for the expenses, including prescription medications. Although navigating the Louisiana workers’ compensation system can prove challenging and frustrating, it is essential that you understand its nuances in order to ensure you are reimbursed for your expenses. 

Darvel Burgess suffered a work-related injury in October 2008. His employer, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (“S&WB”), paid for only some of his medical bills. Burgess filed a claim with the Louisiana Office of Workers’ Compensation (“OWC”) against S&WB. One part of Burgess’ claim was for payment of $13,110.02 in prescription bills owed to Burgess’ “choice of pharmacy,” the Injured Workers Pharmacy (“IWP”). Burgess also requested payment of attorney’s fees for S&WB’s failure to timely pay the bill owed to the pharmacy. 

In response to Burgess’ claim, S&WB provided two letters. An October 10, 2011, letter sent from S&WB to “All Injured Workers” stated that Corvel Caremark Pharmacy Program was S&WB’s approved pharmacy provider. An April 12, 2012, letter from S&WB to IWP stated that IWP was not an approved pharmacy provider and that the pharmacy should not accept prescriptions from S&WB’s injured workers since they would deny any bills the pharmacy submitted for payment. 

40-Email-06-24-19-pictureDetermining liability in any car accident is frequently a challenging endeavor. This is especially true if one of the vehicles is owned by a city, but a state employee was driving the vehicle. In one such case involving the City of DeRidder, Louisiana, numerous questions arose about who was the liable party after a car accident resulted in multiple injuries. 

Joseph Tatney was an inmate at the Vernon Parish Detention Center. Tatney was being transported as part of an Interagency Agreement between the State of Louisiana and the City of DeRidder, which required the City of DeRidder to provide vehicles to transport inmates to sites for labor. During this trip, Tatney injured his back and neck when the transportation van got into an automobile accident. The van was owned by the City of DeRidder and driven by a Louisiana state employee. 

Tatney first filed a lawsuit against the City of DeRidder, the sheriff of the Vernon Parish Detention Center, and the state employee driving the van at the time of the accident. He subsequently added the State of Louisiana into his claim. The City of DeRidder filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that under the terms of the agreement, the state was liable for its employees’ negligent acts. Neither the state or Tatney opposed the motion for summary judgment. Thus, the trial court granted the motion. 

nrd-D6Tu_L3chLE-unsplash-1024x768Going to the grocery store is a frequent occurrence for most of us. However, most people are probably not aware of when a grocery store can be held liable for selling unsuitable products. 

On February 15, 2013, Elton Simmons purchased a package of fruit cups from Brookshire Grocery, a Shreveport grocery store. That night Simmons ate a fruit cup, and woke up the next morning with stomach pain. At this point he ate another one to “settle his stomach.” At around 7:00 a.m. Simmons opened the rest of the fruit cups and noticed they had mold growing inside of them.

In the initial trial, Simmons alleged negligence for “(a) selling products that were unfit to eat, (b) not ensuring that all products were fit for their purpose, (c) not preventing the sale of dangerous products, and (d) other acts of negligence.”

martha-dominguez-de-gouveia-nMyM7fxpokE-unsplash-1024x697Navigating any lawsuit can be challenging, especially when the initial trial gives rise to complicated appeals. In this instance, the plaintiff was left wondering how jury instruction impacted her medical malpractice lawsuit. 

Mrs. Sherry Wedgeworth filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Tynes Mixon, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician. Mrs. Wedgeworth start seeing Dr. Mixon in 2006 for recurring sinus infections. Dr. Mixon performed sinus surgery in 2009 and then a revision sinus surgery three years later in 2012. After this surgery, a pathologist examined the tissue that was removed and found a fragment of brain tissue. Dr. Mixon immediately advised Mrs. Wedgeworth and advised her to go to the hospital for a C.T. scan because of the risk for infection. Mrs. Wedgeworth declined this advice, but went to see Dr. Mixon the next day, where she again turned down hospital admission and a C.T. scan. Three days later, she was hospitalized, and another three days later she began to show symptoms of a brain infection. Mrs. Wedgeworth and her husband, Mr. Wedgeworth, then filed a malpractice claim.

The initial medical review panel held for Dr. Mixon. The Wedgeworths then petitioned for damages, claiming loss of consortium, services, and society. A civil jury ruled in favor of Dr. Mixon, dismissing all claims. The Wedgeworths filed a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding Verdict or Alternatively New Trial. The trial court denied these motions, and the Wedgeworths appealed. The issues for the appellate court were whether the trial court erred by not instructing the jury that negligence equals malpractice and by improperly denying a new trial. 

retro-clock-1422611-1024x919If you are injured and think another party might be at fault, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. If you wait too long, your claim, and any chance of recovering damages could expire, leaving you with little recourse against the responsible party. In the law, this is referred to as prescription, and different claims have different time periods before they prescribe, i.e., expire. In Louisiana, the doctrine of prescription protects defendants from having to defend against stale claims by requiring plaintiffs to file suit in a court of competent jurisdiction and venue within a specified time period and to pursue that suit in a timely manner. There are additional rules determining what actions serve to interrupt the running of prescription, but generally, prescription begins to run from the day damage is sustained, La. C.C. art. 3492, and prescription can be interrupted by commencing an action against the other party in a court that has jurisdiction and where venue is proper. La. C.C. art. 3462. However, as with most everything in the law, there are some nuisances and exceptions to these rules.

The importance of proper and timely filing of a lawsuit is illustrated in Lee v. RTA, where a streetcar passenger was injured when the streetcar had to aggressively brake to avoid a car turning in front of it on Canal St. Although the plaintiff filed his claim before the prescriptive period ended, he filed the claim in First City Court, which lacks jurisdiction over the RTA as a political subdivision. Instead, the claim should have instead been filed in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court. The law states that when a claim is filed in an improper court, prescription is interrupted only by actual service of process within the prescriptive period. La. C.C. art. 3462. Service of process is procedure by which a party is informed of the lawsuit against them. In this case, the plaintiff’s claims had a prescriptive period of one year. By failing to properly serve the defendant within one year, and since his claim was not brought in a proper court, the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed with prejudice after being transferred to the proper court. This means that the plaintiff will have no opportunity to fix his mistakes and attempt to bring the claim again. The trial court’s dismissal was upheld on appeal. If he had originally filled his claim in the correct court, or made timely service on the defendant, his claims would have been able to proceed. This highlights the importance of not only prompt action in choosing an attorney when you have been injured, but also choosing an experienced and reputable firm. 

Additional Sources: Lee v. Regional Transit Authority of New Orleans

41-Email-05-22-19-1024x772In deciding whether to dismiss a specific case, the Appellate Court should consider many factors. Among them are subject matter jurisdiction and statutory of limitation. The claims might be dismissed if they are filed to a wrong court which does not have the legal power to adjudicate on this case, or if they are filed too late (peremption) because laws encourage people to file a lawsuit timely. 

In 1996, Leonard Bracken (“Bracken”) exposed himself to sulfur mustard, widely known as mustard gas, at a facility which was owned by Georgia Gulf Corporation in Plaquemine, Louisiana. Bracken agreed to a global settlement. On October 27, 1999, a workers’ compensation judge (“WCJ”) approved the settlement. Bracken alleged that when he signed on the settlement, he had no idea that the settlement would deprive his right to file any workers’ compensation claims in the future and this is because his former attorney deliberately misled him. On February 2, 2015, Bracken filed a petition in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court (“19th JDC”),  seeking to vacate the WCJ’s approval of the settlement and grant his right to file any workers’ compensation claims arising from the bad accident in 1996, because this is a judgment obtained by fraud or ill practice. Bracken listed various parties as defendants, e.g. Georgia Gulf Corporation and Worker Compensation Tribunal. In response, defendants timely filed exceptions raising the objections of, among other things, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, prescription/peremption and sanctions. On June 1, 2015, after a hearing was held, the 19th JDC held that all the exceptions were sustained and Bracken’s petition was dismissed. Then the 19th JDC dismissed Bracken’s motion for a new trial but granted Bracken a devolutive appeal (in which the appellate courts can determine on some issues while the trial court continue on other issues, rather than suspend).

The jurisdiction of the subject matter is a court’s legal authority and power to hear, analyze and make judgment regarding a particular class of cases. La. C.C.P. art. 2. Even if both parties reach an agreement to give a court the legal power to hear their case, this agreement is not valid at all. A judgment by a court which has no power to hear a case is not valid. La. C.C.P. art. 3. To invalidate a judgment which is reached by ill practice or fraud, the case should be filed to the court which made that judgment. Bracken’s settlement was approved by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration (“OWCA”), not 19th JDC, so Bracken should file this lawsuit to OWCA. In addition, all claims which arises from the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Law may be filed to OWCA, since WCJ have the exclusive and original jurisdiction. La. R.S. 23:1310.3(F)

69-Email-05-22-19-picture-1024x683Insurance policies are often complex and difficult to understand. However, especially when an insurance policy is at issue in a lawsuit, it is essential that you fully read and understand what the insurance policy covers in order to maximize your chance of recovery success, as well as understand the principles that courts use in interpreting policy provisions.

In September 2014, Peyton Wilt was tragically killed when he was riding in a gyrocopter, an experimental amateur-built aircraft, piloted by Darren Mahler. Lindsey King, the mother of Peyton, brought a claim individually and behalf of Wilt, against Mahler’s insurance company, Old Republic Insurance Company. King alleged that the Mahler’s pilot insurance policy covered the bodily injury and property damage resulting from the crash.

Old Republic filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that its policy did not cover the gyrocopter’s flight or crash, or Peyton’s death. Old Republic pointed to the declarations section of the insurance policy, which listed a 1973 Piper PA-28-140 fixed wing aircraft, not the gyrocopter involved in the crash. King countered that the policy covered “any aircraft” “used by the named insured” which was not described in Item 5 of the Declarations. In response, Old Republic argued that King’s argument would lead to absurd results because it would provide coverage for any aircraft that Mahler used, without consideration of its ownership airworthiness, certification, weight, or seating capacity. The New Orleans Parish Civil District Court found in favor of Old Republic, dismissing all claims against Old Republic with prejudice (meaning the claims could not be filed again). King appealed this finding.