Understanding Prescriptive Time Periods When Filing a Lawsuit

Time is of the essence when it comes to filing a suit to address a grievance. If too much time passes, one may be barred from filing a lawsuit. The time period for filing a lawsuit is known as the “prescriptive time period.” For example, a lawsuit for personal injury is subject to a one-year period of liberative prescription, following the date of the accident. The issue may become whether or not the time period has passed or not, thus, keeping a close eye on the calendar is the best way to stay safe when filing a lawsuit.

In a recent Louisiana Supreme Court decision, the court explored the time period in which the plaintiff initially filed to determine whether or not he filed in the appropriate time period. The cases arose from a fire at an oil well site in which the plaintiff was severely burned. The oil well accident occurred on September 27, 2007, thus, according to the prescriptive time period, he had one year from this date to file suit against the defendant(s). The plaintiff was employed by a Well Service Company that had contracted with an additional Mineral Company that produced oil and gas. In turn, the Mineral Company contracted with the plaintiff’s direct employer to drill a well. The plaintiff filed a tort suit for his personal injuries against the Mineral Company and its insurer on September 4, 2008, falling within the one-year time period allowed for personal injury lawsuits. The plaintiff sustained injuries during the drilling operations, the well penetrated into formations that were pressurized with hydrocarbons. At the time of the incident, the plaintiff was in charge of circulating water through the well while awaiting heavier drilling mud to be pumped into the well to control the hydrocarbon pressure. His direct supervisor, a Well Service Employee, told the plaintiff to stand away from the well because the level the pressure was dangerous. However, the Mineral Supervisor contradicted the former supervisor’s orders and told the plaintiff to get on his station at the pump and to abandon it only after shutting the pump off should the gas escape the well.

To the plaintiff’s misfortune, he followed the Mineral Company’s supervisor, where shortly after a hydrocarbon gas from down-hole escaped from the water tank sufficientily so that it ignited as the plaintiff was attempting to shut off the pump. This caused the hydrocarbon cloud in which the plaintiff was surrounded by, to become ignited, severely burning his entire body. It was only after the plaintiff filed suit against the Mineral Company that he discovered that the alleged Mineral Company supervisor was actually an independent contractor employed by a separate Pipeline Company. Thus, after the one year period, the plaintiff named the Pipe Company as a defendant in an amended petition. The question became whether or not the amended petition was proper, since the prescriptive period of one year had since passed. Thus, the Supreme Court’s responsibility was to explore the lower court’s decision which sustained the Pipeline Company’s argument that too much time had passed and thus, the plaintiff should not be allowed to add them into the initial lawsuit.

Jurisprudence has recognized three different scenarios in which a plaintiff may rely on to establish that prescription has not run. These three situations include, suspension, interruption, and renunciation. In this case, the plaintiff relied on the theory of interruption to argue that his claim had not prescribed. In Louisiana Civil Code Article 1799 provides,

“The interruption of prescription against one solidary obligor is effective against all solidary obligors.”

In addition, Louisiana Civil Code Article 3503 declares, “When prescription is interrupted against a solidary obligor, the interruption is effective against all solidqary obligors.” Relying on jurisprudence, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirms the principle that for purposes of prescription, parties are solidarily liable to the extent that they share coextensive liability to repair certain elements of the same damage. As such, the plaintiff sustained severe physical injuries after being directly ordered to engage in dangerous activity by an independent contractor who was employed by the Pipeline Company. The companies are solidarily responsible since they held the supervisor out as a company employee and they were directly involved in the injury of the plaintiff. Therefore, prescription was properly interrupted as process was served upon the Mineral Company within the one year prescriptive time period, and since the independent supervisor involved was a solidary obligor, this initial service interrupted prescription amongst all involved and permits the plaintiff to amend the pleading to add the supervisor despite being past the one year prescriptive time period.

Lawsuits are a complicated process that require more than a grievance, they require proper filing within certain time periods, and serving parties at appropriate times. Thus, acquiring legal representation is highly recommended. This will help to ensure that the prescriptive time periods are followed and your legal argument does not fall between the cracks.