Medical Malpractice Case Demonstrates the Importance of Proper Venue

In litigation, the term venue means “the location where an action or proceeding may properly be brought and tried under the rules regulating the subject.” In other words, for each suit, there is a particular court where the plaintiff should file based on the situation’s unique facts. The Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure’s general rule of venue states that a defendant must be sued in the parish where he is domiciled (where he lives). LSA-C.C.P. Art. 42.

However, the Code also provides the following exception:

“An action for the recovery of damages for an offense … may be brought in the parish where the wrongful conduct occurred, or in the parish where the damages were sustained.” LSA-C.C.P. Art. 74.

Questions of venue frequently arise in lawsuits against corporations or businesses who may be headquartered (domiciled) in one parish but who engage in business in other parishes.

One case that illustrates the complexity of venue was Daniels v. Rachal, 610 So. 2d 967 (La. Ct. of App., 1st Cir. 1992). On February 21, 1989, Sheree Daniels visited the Eye Care and Surgery Center (the “Center”) in Ascension Parish for an eye exam. Dr. Vincent Rachal performed the examination but failed to diagnose a brain tumor, which was discovered two months later. Daniels filed a medical malpractice suit against Rachal and the Center in Tangipahoa Parish, where she lived. The defendants filed a motion objecting to venue, which Daniels refuted by arguing that her “damages were sustained” in her domicile of Tangipahoa Parish because her illness progressed there. The trial court agreed with Daniels, and the defendants appealed immediately before the trial proceeded.

On appeal, The Court of Appeal considered a similar case involving a legal malpractice claim that had recently been decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court. In Chambers v. Leblanc, 598 So.2d 337 (La. 1992), the plaintiffs filed a suit in their parish of domicile, Livingston, against an attorney who was domiciled in Iberville Parish and practiced in Ascension Parish, for a mistake he made in a matter in East Baton Rouge Parish. The Court concluded that the harm occurred either in Ascension Parish or East Baton Rouge Parish, but clearly not in Livingston Parish; as a result, Livingston was not a parish of proper venue under the Code of Civil Procedure. Applying the reasoning of the Chambers case to Daniels’s decision to file in Tangipahoa Parish, the Court of Appeal concluded, “it is clear that [Daniels] was damaged in Ascension Parish where the wrongful conduct occurred. Therefore Ascension Parish is the proper venue in this case.” The court then noted that “When an action is brought in a court of improper venue, an appellate court has the discretion to dismiss the action or, in the interest of justice, transfer it to a court of proper venue.” Luckily for Daniels, the court elected to transfer the suit to Ascension Parish rather than dismiss.

It is important to note that the Court of Appeal was not required by law to transfer Daniels’s suit to the proper parish. Indeed, plaintiffs should never rely on a court to transfer an improperly filed lawsuit rather than dismiss it outright. For this reason, it is critical for a plaintiff to retain competent counsel who understands Louisiana’s venue requirements to ensure that a procedural matter like venue does not result in a dismissal of the case before the jury can even hear the evidence.

If you have been injured due to someone else’s fault, call the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help.