Recently, Louisiana’s 2nd Circuit heard a civil suit in which the court examined the possible affirmative defenses for defendants of intentional tort cases when the actions of that defendant resulted from an aggressive plaintiff. In the case of Griffith v. Young, Mr. Young appealed the 26th district decision to grant Mr. Griffith a motion for partial summary judgment for his battery case against Mr. Young. After arriving at the plaintiff’s home, the defendant kicked down the plaintiff’s door and physically attacked him using a stun gun, which resulted in multiple injuries to the plaintiff. While these actions alone are shocking, the details are even more strange.
The defendant claimed that the attack stemmed from the plaintiff boasting about past sexual relations with the defendant’s wife and openly distributing provocative photos of her to others. The defendant claimed that the partial summary judgment was ruled in error because his behavior was the result of the plaintiff’s conduct. Further, he claimed that learning of the extramarital affair and the distribution of the pictures was enough provocation by the plaintiff to question the proportion of liability between the two parties, making summary judgment inappropriate. This appeal brings up questions about how liable an individual who is provoked to engage in a physical altercation is relative to the other participant, and how the law handles these “overly aggressive plaintiff” theories by defendants in intentional tort claims. We look at how the 2nd circuit views Louisiana’s current precedent on the issue.
One avenue found within the Louisiana courts, as discussed in Young, is the use of “provocation” as an affirmative defense. Louisiana jurisprudence follows a comparative fault principle for civil claims. Under such a principle, as enacted in La. C. C. art. 2323, the amount of damages recoverable by a plaintiff for any action resulting in injury or loss shall be made in proportion to the degree of fault attributable to that plaintiff. In an effort to promote such a doctrine, Louisiana no long utilizes the “aggressor doctrine.” Under such a doctrine, a plaintiff would be unable to file a claim if it was determined that the plaintiff’s immediate actions sufficiently provoked the defendants attacked. The Louisiana Supreme Court in Landry v. Bellanger eliminated the use of the traditional “aggressor doctrine” and now allows defendants to assert a defense of provocation, utilizing comparative fault principles to proportion liability, when the plaintiff’s actions toward the defendant or a third party immediately provoked the actions of the defendant. The more the plaintiff immediately provokes the defendant, the less liable the defendant would be for any attack that may follow. La. C. C. art. 2323(c) does create an exception to the provocation rule, where a defendant’s intentional tort that arose from a negligent plaintiff does not use the comparative proportionately reduction.
In addition, Louisiana still continues to allow defendants to claim “self-defense,” which operates as a privilege to committing the accused intentional tort. To prove self-defense, a defendant must show that there was a reasonably apparent threat to the defendant’s safety and the force employed cannot be excessive in degree or kind (See Landry v. Bellanger). In addition to proving all the elements of self-defense, the Louisiana’s 2nd circuit in Young also highlighted the requirement that the reasonably apparent threat of physical harm to the defendant must be immediate and does not apply if deadly force is involved.
Unfortunately for Mr. Young, the 2nd circuit determined that the evidence of infidelity by his wife and the plaintiff’s attempt to spread pictures of her occurred over 20 months prior to the attack, and the failure to provide adequate evidence as to when Mr. Young learned of the plaintiff’s conduct did not create the necessary immediate provocation needed to raise a legitimate issue of material fact, affirming the district court’s decision. Though such a defense did not work in the favor of Mr. Young, those involved in an intentional tort claim should be aware of their right to proportion liability when they feel they were adequately provoked by another or the right to claim self-defense when such an attack was done to prevent a reasonably apparent threat.
While the events in this case are extreme, the legal rhetoric and overall sentiments relating to an appeal and causation for a successful legal claim remain viable. The fact remains that the courts hold specific concepts all the more true, regardless of how distasteful they find the circumstances. By speaking to an attorney about your rights, anyone damaged in a manner similar can hopefully determine their legal options.
Should you believe that you have been the victim of an attack, or are accused of attacking another individual, contact the Berniard Law Firm. Providing the best experts in claims of personal injury, our law firm is fully capable of meeting your litigation needs. Call the Berniard Law Firm, toll-free, at 1-866-574-8005 and an attorney specializing in your legal issue will be more than happy to help you get the support you need.