Avoyelles Parish Cooking Accident Leads to Court’s Review of Interlocutory Appeals

Louisiana jurisprudence recognizes the concept of the interlocutory appeal, which is an appeal of a ruling by the trial court before the verdict is ultimately rendered. An interlocutory appeal is available only for issues that would directly affect the trial’s outcome or that would not be reviewable except by immediate appeal. Thus, not all interlocutory judgments made by a trial court are eligible for appeal. For instance, a trial court’s judgment granting a party’s motion for new trial is an interlocutory judgment that is ineligible for appeal because it does not decide the merits of the case. This very rule was at the center of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s recent unpublished opinion in the case of Dauzat v. State of Louisiana, Department of Transportation and Development.

On March 10, 2008, Christine Dauzat boiled several batches of crawfish in a large, heavy pot on the patio of her home located in Avoyelles Parish. When she was finished cooking, Dauzat and her adult son carried the pot of still-boiling-hot water to the roadside ditch that ran the length of her property. While attempting to dump out the pot, Dauzat slipped on a ramp that crossed over the ditch. The hot water from the pot poured over her as she fell into the ditch, burning her severely. Dauzat sued the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) alleging that the ramp and ditch were located within the DOTD’s right-of-way and that the DOTD failed to properly maintain the ramp. At trial, a jury returned a verdict finding Dauzat to be 100 percent at fault for the accident. Dauzat filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial judge granted after a hearing. Then the DOTD filed a suspensive appeal in the Third Circuit Court of Appeal that sought to delay the commencement of the new trial. Dauzat countered that the DOTD’s appeal was improper “because a judgment granting a motion for new trial is an interlocutory judgment.” The Third Circuit agreed: “The judgment granting [Dauzat’s] motion for new trial does not decide the merits of this case and, thus, is interlocutory.” Louisiana jurisprudence has expressly held that “a judgment granting a motion for a new trial is a non-appealable interlocutory judgment.” Thus, the court found that the trial court’s ruling was a “non-appealable, interlocutory ruling,” and Dauzat was able to proceed with her new trial.

At the center of this judgment was the fact that the trial court’s granting of a new trial did not directly resolve the ultimate issues in the case – whether the DOTD had a duty to maintain the ramp and ditch in front of Dauzat’s property, and whether it failed to do so. The trial court’s judgment simply permitted the matter to be brought before a second jury for resolution, and that ruling was therefore not appealable. The policy of limiting appeals is based on the preference of handling matters at the trial court level whenever possible, as the trial court offers the most direct means by which to resolve factual disputes.

If you have been injured due to someone’s negligence, call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with an attorney who can help you obtain the recovery you deserve.