Third Circuit Reverses Lafayette Court Ruling on an Exception of No Right of Action Claim

On October 3, 2010, Darnall and Michelle Carter suffered the loss of their son Kyris in a drowning incident at a party. On April 25, 2011, the Carters filed wrongful death and survival actions against Steak House Steaks, Inc., James Nations Jr., the alleged owner of the property where the party was held, and XYZ Insurance Co. Wrongful death and survival actions are civil lawsuits initiated by the family members of a deceased victim to obtain a monetary settlement from the person or people responsible for the death of their loved one. Under Louisiana law, there is an established order concerning who has first priority to take these civil actions, with the children of the victim having the first right to file against the wrongdoing party. If the victim had no children then his or her siblings may bring the matter to court, and if the victim had no siblings, then the right falls to the victim’s parents.

Since Kyris Carter did not have any children or siblings, his parents Darnall and Michelle were within their rights to bring wrongful death and survival actions on his behalf. However, the trial court in Lafayette ruled in favor of a motion filed by the defendants in June 2011 for an “exception of no right of action” and dismissed the defendant parties from the lawsuit. According to the defendants, the plaintiffs had no right of action, that is, they did not have a right to bring the wrongful death and survival action claims because the defendants were not the owners of the property where the accident occurred, nor were they the hosts of the party where Kyris Carter died.

The details of the party in question are not laid out by the Court of Appeal or the lower court, but the particular facts concerning who hosted the party or who may have been responsible for the drowning accident should not have been taken into account when the trial court was deciding the motion. In 2012, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court had erred in its assessment of the legal procedural issues involved in the defendant’s motion. The purpose of the “exception of no right of action”, it said, is “to challenge whether a plaintiff is the proper party to file an action, not whether a defendant is the proper party against whom an action can be filed.” In other words, even if Darnall and Michelle Carter had mistakenly initiated a lawsuit against the wrong defendants, the motion used by the defendants should not have been the one used to challenge such an error. The “exception of no right of action” can only be used to challenge whether a plaintiff is the right person to be filing the lawsuit in the first place. Since Darnall and Michelle were proper plaintiffs in this lawsuit, there was no ground for this exception.

Courts can make mistakes in applying the correct legal standards, but what is more significant and more common is for lawyers to file the wrong motions in the first place. If you are a defendant or potential plaintiff to a lawsuit, it is important to have a legal representative who makes the right calls and won’t waste your time and money with unmeritorious claims.

If you or a loved one is in need of a lawyer, contact the qualified attorneys at the Bernaird Law Firm for a free consultation at 504-527-6225.