Under Louisiana law, if the owner of a defective ‘thing’ knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known of the ruin, vice, or defect of the ‘thing,’ if the damage could have been prevented by exercising reasonable care, and if the owner failed to exercise such reasonable care, he is liable for the unintentional harm caused by his negligence. Negligence is a failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances.
In a recent case, sheetrock from the kitchen ceiling of a rental house owned by John F. Luck in Shreveport, LA, struck two visitors, knocking them to the floor. The injured pair brought the suit alleging that the negligent home owner, Luck, should have been aware of the condition of the ceiling in the rental home. The victims argued that since Luck should have been aware of the decrepit ceiling, he could have fixed the ceiling, thereby preventing the injuries now sustained by the pair. The court of appeals ultimately affirmed the decision of the district court, holding Luck liable for the personal injuries through a negligence theory of vicarious liability known as respondeat superior.
Respondeat superior is a legal doctrine which holds the employer liable for the actions of his employees, when performed within the course of their employment. In this case, Luck’s maintenance supervisor, Rodney Fleckenstein, worked for Luck as a repairman for almost five years and eight months. Fleckenstein had gone into the rental home on three separate occasions prior to the collapsing sheetrock incident, to repair and replace various utilities within the home. Both the district court and court of appeals found that Luck should have known of the disrepair of the kitchen ceiling through Fleckenstein’s casual observation of the home when he went in to do his repairs.
Under circumstances such as these, when the owner of a defective ‘thing’ is found liable for thousands of dollars in compensatory damages, he may attempt to shift part of the blame for the ensuing personal injuries to the opposing party or a third party, arguing that they were partially responsible for the injuries as well. In fact, this is exactly what Luck attempted to do. He argued that if he was responsible for the injuries sustained by the visitors, then he was not responsible for the current resident’s negligence in failing to warn the visitors of the defect or ruin in the kitchen ceiling, because she also knew or should have known of the existence of the defect in the ceiling.
In other words, Luck was asserting the legal doctrine known as comparative fault. Comparative fault is a defense that can be asserted by a defendant, by arguing that he is only responsible for a certain percentage of the harm inflicted. Under this doctrine, the defendant argues that another party is responsible for the remaining percentage of the harm. The amount of damages owed by the defendant then depends on how much fault is apportioned to each party regarding the negligent incident.
In this case, if the court had found that the resident of the rental home was also partially at fault, it would have reduced the amount of compensatory damages that Luck had to pay. It was found, however, that Luck was one hundred percent at fault for his negligence in not fixing up the kitchen ceiling of the rental home.
In cases such as these, the victims have the burden of proving that the owner of the ‘thing’ was at fault.
Therefore, it is important to be represented by competent attorneys—attorneys from the Berniard Law Firm— who will make sure that you receive the relief you deserve.