Accidents happen daily, and when they do, they can be overwhelming and stressful. If you’ve been in an accident and filed a claim for damages, but it gets dismissed due to the granting of a motion for summary judgment in favor of the defendants, you may feel like there’s no hope. However, this is not the end of the matter. The trial court’s decision can be appealed, and the appellate court will review the decision to ensure whether the motion was properly granted. The following lawsuit shows how the appeals process can alter a trial court’s decision.
Stephen Ledet and his young son were sailing on a 16-foot recreational boat (“Ledet vessel”) being operated by Stephen’s brother, Kent Ledet. They were sailing on the Intracoastal Waterway near Berwick, Louisiana. The M/V Miss Cissy (“Miss Cissy”), a 46.5-foot commercial vessel owned by Parker Drilling Offshore USA, LLC (“PDO”), was sailing on the waterway at the same time ahead of them. Its employee, Captain Richard Rowe (“Rowe”), operated it.
Kent Ledet could see the ship approximately 200 yards away as the weather was sunny and clear. However, Miss Cissy was traveling much slower than the Ledet’s vessel. The Ledet’s vessel eventually caught up to Miss Cissy’s rear. Miss Cissy then suddenly accelerated its engine and created large swells and wakes. Kent Ledet was unable to avoid the large wakes. The boat tossed and slammed against the water, and the whole family sustained alleged physical and mental injuries.
The Ledets filed a lawsuit for damages due to the alleged injuries they sustained. The captain of Miss Cissy at the time, Richard Rowe, and PDO were named as defendants. The lawsuit alleged that PDO and Rowe allowed Miss Cissy to travel unreasonably and unsafely. The Ledets alleged the defendants’ actions constituted gross negligence and exhibited “callous and grave disregard” for anyone around them while sailing at the site of the incident.
PDO answered the lawsuit and then filed a third-party demand alleging that the incident was caused only by the negligence of Kent Ledet in operating his boat. The demand alleged Kent Leder traveled at an unreasonable and unsafe speed, failed to maintain a proper outlook of the ships ahead of him, and failed to reduce the boat’s speed while attempting to overtake Miss Cissy.
After discovery finished, PDO and Rowe filed a joint motion for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs appealed the decision.
After adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment is properly granted if there are no issues of material facts in the case. La. C.C.P. art. 966. The filer of the motion (the mover) bears the burden of proving that he is entitled to summary judgment. The defendants/movers must show a lack of factual support for any element of the plaintiffs’ case. For the plaintiffs to prove a motion for summary judgment was improperly granted, they must produce evidence that there was a genuine issue of material fact for trial.
For a maritime negligence cause of action, the plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) the plaintiff sustained injury, and (4) a casual connection exists between the defendant’s conduct and plaintiff’s injury. Dunaway v. La. Wildlife & Fisheries Comm’n. Only the first two elements, duty, and breach, are at issue on the appeal. The issues are whether Miss Cissy and Rowe owed the plaintiffs a duty and whether they breached it.
It was undisputed the Ledet’s vessel was behind and quickly approaching Miss Cissy. However, the actions the Ledet vessel and Miss Cissy took while the incident happened were in dispute. The Ledets said they tried to pass Miss Cissy to reach the boat launch, but then Miss Cissy suddenly accelerated. In contrast, the defendants asserted that Kent Ledet attempted to overtake Miss Cissy but failed, which caused the plaintiffs’ injuries.
In granting summary judgment in this matter, the district court had to weigh the credibility of Rowe against that of the Ledet brothers. Both parties had inconsistent testimony. When the applicable law depends on the factfinder’s conclusion as to whether a crossing or overtaken has occurred, it must first be proven whether there was a crossing or overtaking. Williams v. Shell Oil Co. Here, the issue was whether one vessel overtook another. This was a genuine issue of material fact. The appeals court ruled the trial court erred by granting summary judgment based on facts that were in dispute.
For these reasons, the appellate court found that summary judgment in favor of the defendant was improperly granted. There were numerous genuine issues of material fact in dispute. A trial on the merits was necessary to determine whether the defendants failed to exercise reasonable care or otherwise breached a duty owed to the plaintiffs for which they can be held liable. Accordingly, the district court’s judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
As demonstrated by the lawsuit discussed above, the trial court’s decision can be appealed, and an appellate court can review the decision to ensure it was properly granted. Retaining a skilled personal injury lawyer can ensure you receive a fair decision in your case. If a trial court grants a motion for summary judgment, it may not be the end of the matter. You have the right to appeal and have the decision reviewed by an appellate court.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer: Giuseppe Fiorentino
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