In 2006, a mobile home caught fire in Winnfield, Louisiana. The couple that owned the home was obviously frightened and confused. However, they were especially concerned because their phone line was not working and their water had virtually no pressure. Therefore, the husband drove to a neighbor’s house to seek a phone to call the fire department and the wife stayed at home to try to control the flames. Because of the lack of water pressure, unfortunately, the flames became too much for the woman to handle. These two factors, the lack of phone and water pressure, no doubt contributed to the excessive amount of damage to their home.
Why did these disastrous conditions occur? The Winn Parish road crew accidentally cut their phone and water lines three days before the fire. They were in the process of fixing the water line and the phone company had yet to send someone out to fix the phone line when the fire occurred. The fire was caused by an unrelated incident, but the three occurrences combined proved to be disastrous for the couple.
The couple contacted their insurance company right away to help with the expenses. The insurance company provided $55,047.55 in compensation costs based on their homeowners’ insurance coverage. However, the couple also sued the Winn Parish Police Jury because they thought the damage caused by the fire would be much less had they had the use of decent water pressure and phone line to contact emergency personnel.
In determining this case, the court admitted that the damage probably would have been less. However, that does not automatically make the Winn Parish Policy Jury liable for the damages. In order to prove a case for damages in Louisiana, you need five major things: 1) there is duty to conform specific actions to a standard, 2) the conduct failed to meet that standard, 3) the failure caused injuries or damages, 4) the failure was a legal cause of injuries or damages, and 5) the injuries or damages actually occurred.
The court agrees that the Winn Parish road crew had a duty to avoid cutting water and phone lines and they failed to meet that duty. The court even agrees that their failure to meet those duties caused the couple’s damages and that the damages did, in fact, exist. Where the court is hesitant to grant the couple an award is based on the legal cause of injuries or damages. The legal cause of damages needs to be reasonably foreseen or anticipated. For example, if you put paper on stove, it is very likely that the paper will catch fire if the stove is on. That risk is anticipated or foreseen. The court did not agree that cutting the water and phone lines would cause a mobile home to catch fire.
Because the cutting of the lines was not the direct cause of the damage, the court was unable to award the couple damages from the Winn Parish Police Jury. Interestingly enough, the court sights some other fascinating examples. One included a situation where an individual’s phone service was cut off and so her son, who was unable to call home to ask for a ride, was hit by a car and killed on the walk home. While this event was very unfortunate, the court agrees that it would be very difficult to predict that cutting someone’s phone service would result in their son getting hit by a car. In another example, the court describes a situation where electricity in a new home had not been turned on yet. The mother lit candles in the new home, resulting in a fire that led to her son’s death. While this situation is slightly more related, it is hard to imagine that having no electricity in the home would cause a fire.
The court pointed out that the Winn Parish Police Jury was in the middle of fixing the water line and the phone line was to be worked on the following Monday. None of the parties neglected their duties in repairing the broken lines. The insurance money was likely very helpful for this couple as well.
If your home or property has been damaged, contact the Berniard Law Firm toll free at 1-866-574-8005 and we would be happy to discuss your legal needs with you.