Following the Rules to the Letter: The Need for Careful Lawyer Behavior

In order to sue, there are certain rules and procedures you must follow. There are not only federal rules; there are also state rules and local rules. All of these rules should be combined in order to correctly deal with the court system. In many cases, if you do not comply with these extensive rules, then the court will not hear your case. Obviously, these rules are important, but can be very time consuming to follow.

A recent case provides us with an excellent example of following the rules to the letter. In this case, an individual was killed on Highway 90 near Iberia Parish. His accident occurred on a temporary road near a construction zone; he was the only person involved in the accident. As a result, his mother sued for wrongful death. She listed Toyota Motor North American, Inc., Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc., and the Department of Transportation and Development.

One of the many procedures that must be followed is the service of process. Service of process involves giving the other party a letter or some kind of notification that they are being sued. Its purpose is obviously to inform the other party that they are being sued, but also let them know that they will need to respond and possibly go to court to defend the suit.

In this case, there are two relevant rules related to service of process. When the suit is filed against the state of Louisiana or a state agency (such as the Department of Transportation and Development), the service can be given to the attorney general of Louisiana (see 2010 La. Acts No. 55 § 1, Louisiana Revised Statutes 13:5107). The statute also requires that service be within ninety days of the filing of the complaint. A 2010 amended portion of the complaint states that if this service is not done properly, then the court is allowed to dismiss the case.

In a completely different portion of the Louisiana statutes, it states that service should be upon not only the attorney general, but also upon the office of risk management of the corporation that you are attempting to sue. In addition, it provides that the complaining party should also serve the head of the department concerned (Louisiana Revised Statutes 39:1538).

In the aforementioned case, the mother of the deceased served the attorney general but failed to serve the proper people regarding the other defendants (Toyota). However, the court read these statutes in her favor. The second section of the statue does not include a ninety-day requirement as the previous portion does. Therefore, the court ruled that because she served the attorney general within the correct period specified, service to the other people can be corrected; that is, the ninety day limitation is not required to serve the other two individuals at the corporation.

By virtue of a strict, letter-by-letter reading of the second section of the statute, this woman’s wrongful death case can move forward after she corrects her slight error; without this reading, then her case would be dismissed. Therefore, as you bring cases to court, it is important to read every word, every letter, of the requirements to sue. This case points out that not only do you need to be aware of the many layers of court rules, but you also need to be aware of updates and changes to the rules. This awareness can make or break a case. This is required, of course, on top of a comprehensive knowledge of the applicable law.

The attorneys at the Berniard Law Firm follow the court rules and their updates very closely; that is part of the many interesting challenges of our position. If you have a case that you would like to discuss, please contact us toll free at 1-866-574-8005.