Court Upholds Lower Level of Standard of Duty for Louisiana Governments

In many circumstances, state and federal governments are protected by governmental immunity. In some circumstances, e.g. where government acts as a market participant, these immunities are set aside due to the nature of the actions taken by the government. In Louisiana, the Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG) runs a bus service for its citizens. On one bus drive, a customer of a LCG run bus was injured due to the malfunction of a pull cord that came loose striking the customer in the eye. In Willie Mae Scott (plaintiff) v. LCG, the Appellate Court upheld a trial court decision that granted summary judgment to LCG.

In August of 2006, plaintiff was riding a bus run by LCG. Another customer of the bus pulled on the cord to inform the bus driver that he should stop. Upon pulling the cord, a clamp holding the cord in place came loose striking plaintiff in the eye causing damage needing medical care. Plaintiff sued LCG as a common carrier and argued that, due to LCG’s common carrier status, it was under a stronger duty of care than most.

The issues in the case were summarized by the Appellate Court as follows: (1) whether LCG had actual or constructive notice of the pull cord (2) whether LCG was a common carrier, subjecting it to a higher duty of care and (3) whether the existence of other pull cord defects created a genuine issue of material fact. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of LCG stating that there was no genuine issue of material fact. At the appellate level, the Court views the case de novo under the same summary judgment standards used at the trial court level.

Plaintiff argues that LCG had constructive notice of the pull cord defect. As such, they argued that this notice exists due to a lack of plan to check the pull cords. However, the Supreme Court of Louisiana has held in the past that as it relates to governmental entities, a lack of plan to inspect cannot lead to constructive notice. According to La.R.S. 9:2800, constructive knowledge is the existence of facts that infer actual knowledge. To argue that by not planning to check the pull cords LCG had constructive knowledge of the defect is a counterintuitive argument. Plaintiff further alleges that the standards set out by 9:2800 are irrelevant because LCG is a common carrier and is thus subject to a higher duty of care. However, the Appellate Court stated that statutes are supreme law that trump any common custom or usage. 9:2800 speaks directly to the issue of governmental liability in cases like LCG. Therefore, the statute overrules any common law ideal or custom within the legal community. Plaintiff also brought forth evidence that there was three other occasions where a defective pull cord injured a bus passenger. The first circumstance occurred at a time and place that no one could identify. Thus the impact of this evidence was ineffective. The other two incidents occurred on buses manufactured by companies other than the one that manufactured the bus in issue. Therefore, this evidence was irrelevant. The Appellate Court upheld the trial court’s holding that there was no genuine issue of material fact.

While this case did not go as the plaintiff hoped, each case is different and there may still be something an intelligent, well-versed attorney can do. If you have been injured to the negligence of another driver, or defect in a vehicle, you may have a claim to damages.

Contacting an attorney can clarify the rights you have. Call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak to an attorney who can help.