The term “venue” refers to the particular court where a plaintiff should file his suit. In the case of car accidents and other tort actions, the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure gives the plaintiff a choice of venue. The plaintiff can file the suit in the parish where the accident occurred or, alternatively, in the parish where the defendant driver resides. When a liability insurer is involved as a defendant, the suit can also be filed in the parish where the insurance company is registered. The case of Lopez v. Richard illustrates how the misapplication of the venue rules can have serious, undesirable consequences for a plaintiff.
On March 31, 2006, Gil Lopez was rear-ended by another driver in Lafayette Parish. The driver was Josette Richard, a resident of Lafayette Parish who was insured by Allstate. On the last day of the one-year prescriptive period (April 2, 2007), Lopez filed suit in Iberia Parish, which is the parish where he and his wife live. Richard and Allstate filed an exception for improper venue, and the parties agreed to transfer the case to Lafayette Parish in August of 2007. Once the case was transferred, Richard and Allstate filed an exception of prescription, arguing that Lopez’s action was not properly filed before the expiration of the prescription period. The Third Circuit agreed, stating that “it is well settled that the transfer of an action to a correct venue, after prescription has run, does not resurrect the plaintiff’s lawsuit.” In an attempt to preserve his cause of action, Lopez offered the novel argument that venue in his home parish was proper under the state’s “joint obligor” statute. That is, Lopez argued that because he was a beneficiary under Richard’s Allstate policy, he was also an “insured” under the terms of the policy which provided Allstate’s connection to Iberia Parish and permitted suit there. The court deemed this theory a misapplication of the law which was intended for suits involving Uninsured Motorist coverage, but not a direct policy such as the one Allstate had issued to Richard. Instead, Lopez is merely a “claimant” who will “be paid by Allstate on behalf of their insured, Richard, if Richard is found liable” for the accident. Thus, because Lopez filed his suit in the wrong parish and did not transfer it to a proper parish before the running of the prescription period, his case was dismissed.
The lesson from the Lopez case is that proper venue should be identified as early as possible to ensure that the prescriptive period does not expire before the suit can be filed in the correct court. Misfiling a suit does not toll the running of the period. Had Lopez not waited until the very last minute to file his original suit, he may have been able to transfer to the correct venue and avoid losing his case on a mere (but critically important) technicality.
If you have been injured in a car accident, don’t delay in calling the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help you file a proper suit and obtain the recovery you deserve.