Articles Posted in Civil Matter

piggy-bank-1-1241054-1024x764Life insurance benefits can provide beneficiaries with the monetary needs they require. What is a life insurance policy? An insurance company agrees by contract to provide a lump-sum payment, called a death benefit, to the beneficiaries upon the insured’s death in exchange for premium payments. But what happens when the insured dies and the beneficiary encounter problems in getting paid? This case out of Concordia Parish explains entitlement to life insurance proceeds in Louisiana.

On October 16, 2012, Michael Burley and his brother William each purchased life insurance policies from New York Life Insurance Company (“New York Life”) and named the other as beneficiary. Mitch Ashmore, the insurance agent, filled out the application for the policy insuring William’s life and answered “No” to question 3(1) that asked if the applicant had been diagnosed, treated, tested positive for or been given medical advice for drug or alcohol use. In December 2012, the policy insuring William’s life became effective. On April 24, 2013, William died from a heart attack. Mr. Ashmore filed Mr. Burley’s claim for the policy proceeds. On October 14, 2013, New York Life sent a letter to Mr. Burley stating that the answer to question 3(1) should have been “Yes” because of William’s medical records and death certificate listed marijuana use. The letter also stated that New York Life’s normal procedure was to refund all premiums and void the policy. On January 30, 2014, New York Life sent Mr. Burley a check for the premiums.

Mr. Burley filed suit against New York Life seeking the $200,000 policy proceeds, as well as penalties and attorney fees. Mr. Burley filed a Motion for Default Judgment because of New York Life’s failure to Answer. The trial court awarded a default judgment to Mr. Burley for the $200,000 proceeds, $20,000 in penalties under La.R.S. 22:1973, as ewell as $100,000 in penalties under La.R.S. 23:1892. New York Life filed a Motion for a New Trial, which the trial court denied. New York Life appealed the default judgment and the denial of its Motion for New Trial to the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

fencing-1434215-1024x855People have bargained with one another since the dawn of time. Many agreements occur through mere conversation, but memory may be faulty or even denied. Thus, written contracts exist to keep a record of agreements made by two people or business entities. When a disagreement over the meaning of a contract is brought to court, the court will refrain from unnecessarily changing the meaning of words in a contract, opting instead to take the written words literally and simply. RJAM, Inc. v. Miletello, 44 So. 3d 283 (La. Ct. App. 2010). This means that even a single word can completely change how a contract is enforced. A lawsuit concerning that exact issue arose in Parish of Bossier.

In 2004, Endurall, Inc. was created out of an older company that made supplies for oil and gas lines. This new company provided a specific tool for oil rigs. As part of the process of forming the corporation, the four founders signed a non-compete proprietary agreement. This agreement would prevent any of them from going into the same line of business in the same geographical area for two years after leaving the company. In 2012, two of the founding shareholders formed a similar company. They were immediately fired for possibly having used Endurall information to form their new venture, but they did keep their stock. Soon afterward, the two petitioned the court to dissolve Endurall due to the disagreement amongst the stockholders. As a result of the filing, Billy Joe Edwards was no longer a shareholder. His stock and that of the other fired shareholder was sold at private auction to the other two shareholders that had not been involved in the scheme. The two remaining shareholders filed to dismiss the dissolution which was granted.

Soon after, Mr. Edwards and his son created another company that would sell the exact same product line as Endurall only twenty miles away. He also worked for another company selling paraffin products to customers he had worked with while at Endurall. In 2014, the two remaining shareholders sued to have the court enforce the non-compete provision against Mr. Edwards. Any court order which requires a party to do or cease from doing something is an injunction. The trial court granted an injunction ordering Mr. Edwards to stop the competitive business until the agreement expired. Mr. Edwards appealed.

wood-floor-texture-1181928-1024x731It’s a common belief that a landlord is always responsible for the upkeep of a property, and if an injury occurs because of the landlord’s failure to keep premises safe the landlord is financially responsible for any injury suffered. As Kwan Anderson learned the difficult way, however, this is not always the case. A lawsuit out of Parish of Evangeline shows that when a tenant contracts to take on responsibilities of upkeep, they could lose their ability to collect damages for an injury caused by that failure of upkeep.

On September 7, 2012, Anderson fell through a weak part of the floor of a house rented by Meagan Thomas, his girlfriend, and mother of his child. Thomas had rented the house from Wanda Ardoin-Bailey, the owner, on June 9, 2012, and Anderson lived there with Thomas up to the time of his fall. The weak part of the floor had been noted in the lease and the lease also said that Thomas agreed to be responsible for the house’s condition, which included fixing the weak part in the floor. Thomas said her “paw paw” would fix it in exchange for a reduction in rent.  The floor was never repaired.

Anderson filed a petition for damages against Ardoin-Bailey, who answered the petition but also filed a third-party demand against Thomas to have the lease provisions enforced. Ardoin-Bailey also filed a motion for summary judgment. A Motion for Summary Judgment is rendered if “there is no genuine issue as to material fact, and that mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” La. C.C.P. art. 966 (B)(2).  “A material fact is one that would matter on the trial on the merits.” Southpark Cmty. Hosp., LLC v. Southpark Acquisition Co., LLC, 126 So.3d 805, 815 (La. Ct. App. 2013).  If there is no issue on the facts that would matter at a trial, then there is no need for the parties to go further on the lawsuit and it should be dismissed. Summary judgment was granted and Anderson’s lawsuit was dismissed. Anderson appealed.

the-flooded-clay-quarry-1636282-1024x683Lawsuits often appear to be complicated and complex, but what many people don’t know is that the outcome of a lawsuit can often be determined by a simple matter of logistics. The who, what, when, where and why of a situation can make the difference between winning and losing a case. For instance, a simple matter of jurisdiction was the deciding factor in a case brought by a South Louisiana man and his wife.

Mr. Leger was injured on a job site at Peoples Moss Gin in Palmetto Louisiana when a conveyor belt ripped apart and struck him. Leger was employed by Rice Belt Distributors, Inc., a company that was hired to install an eighty-foot vertical conveyor belt in a grain elevator. The conveyor belt which was manufactured by International Conveyors Limited, (ICL) an Indian company, and sold to D.E. Shipp Belting Company (Shipp Belting) using ICL America, a wholesaler of conveyor belts, as an intermediary in the transaction. Mr. Leger and his wife, Gwen Leger, brought a personal injury suit against ICL America, Shipp Belting, International Conveyors, and Brown Cranes whose crane and crane operator were handling the conveyor belt at the time of the accident.

ICL raised a declinatory exception of personal jurisdiction, which allows a party to claim that they are not subject to the court’s power. La.C.C.P. art. 925(A)(5). The trial court granted this exception. The Legers, ICL America, and Burlington Insurance all appealed the decision.

guns-1315486-1024x681Wouldn’t it be a disappointment to have your legal claims dismissed because you missed a filing deadline? The rules that apply to time limits for filing cases can be complicated, as Top Dollar Pawn, Gun and Car Audio #5 in Shreveport, Louisiana found when Top Dollar’s lawsuit was dismissed by the trial court because it was filed after the one-year statute of limitations, the allowed period of time to bring a legal claim, had run.

Top Dollar Pawn, Gun, and Car Audio loaned money to customers, using merchandise the customers gave the store as security for the loan. If a customer failed to repay the loan, Top Dollar sold the merchandise. Between August 2005 and December 2010, officers from the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Shreveport Police Department repeatedly seized merchandise from Top Dollar that they believed had been stolen. They either kept the merchandise in their offices or returned it to the alleged original owners. No hearing was held to determine whether the customer using the merchandise as security for a loan was the lawful owner or had stolen the merchandise.

This procedure was a violation of Louisiana law, which provides a process for handling allegedly stolen goods that have been given to a pawnshop as security for a loan. Because the owners of the pawnshop have the right to due process of law, Louisiana law requires a  hearing before depriving them of property. La. R.S. 37:1805.

old-family-photos-1423774-1024x768As individuals approach the end of their life or encounter health problems, they may utilize a general power of attorney (POA) in order to care for their property. A POA is a written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or some other legal matter. The individual executing the POA is the principal and the individual acting under the POA is the principal’s agent. Dealing with a POA can be difficult since it is usually exercised during a stressful period in the principal’s life. Recently, the issue of using a POA was made even more complicated when it stirred up family drama in the Parish of Lincoln District Court after an agent used the POA to transfer all of the principal’s property into his own account days prior to the principal’s death.   

Kimberly Pee Tatum, Roy Pee, Timothy Pee and Raymond Pee filed a lawsuit against Joseph Daniel Riley in order to void a gift that Riley donated to himself. Riley was the son of Barbara McManus’ second marriage and the plaintiffs were the children of McManus’ first marriage. Riley acted as McManus’ agent under a POA, with McManus as the principal. On January 30, 2006, Riley donated all of McManus’ immovable property, including 32 acres and a house, to himself.  This was done before a notary and witnessed by two witnesses. McManus passed away days later, on February 2, 2006.

At trial, the plaintiffs attempted to show that Riley’s donation left McManus without sufficient funds to care for herself. The plaintiffs presented bills to show that there was no way McManus could care for herself but the plaintiffs admitted these bills were not actually McManus’ bills; the bills presented were from the plaintiffs’ memory and by looking at what was paid by other single, older women. Additionally, Riley testified that he and McManus shared a joint checking account. McManus received $1,037 dollars from Social Security every month and $100 dollars in royalties that were deposited into the shared account. Riley testified that even though they shared an account, McManus paid her own bills and Riley even supported McManus sometimes with his own money.  Riley’s wife, Amy Riley, testified and stated the same thing as Riley. She said McManus never asked them for money but they offered her money when they wanted to. Further, Amy said that even though they shared an account, Riley and herself paid for all of their bills from a separate account. The District Court in the Parish of Lincoln sided with Riley and held that the POA expressly authorized him to donate all of McManus’ property to any person, including himself.  The district court also held that public policy was not violated through the donation.  

motel-sign-1258206-1024x768When a patron is injured by a third party at a hotel, the patron might wish to seek damages from a national franchisor. There are however several criteria to establish a franchisor’s liability making it very difficult for a patron to recover in the absence of direct links between the injury and negligence.  In a recent case out of New Orleans, a shooting victim was left with little recourse against the big company behind the local Motel 6.  

In this case, Jorge A. Espinosa was staying at the Motel 6 on Gentilly Boulevard in New Orleans, Louisiana when he was shot in the Motel’s parking lot. The armed robber entered the Motel’s parking lot through a missing section in the Motel’s fence.  Mr. Espinosa’s injuries left  Mr. Espinosa a paraplegic.  Mr. Espinosa filed a lawsuit against the national franchise, Accor Franchising North America (“Accor”) as well as the local franchisee, Century Bayou Hospitality, LLC (“Bayou”) and their respective insurance companies.  Mr. Espinosa claimed the missing section of the Motel’s fence led to the robber entering the property and shooting Mr. Espinosa.  The District Court for the Parish of Orleans granted Accor’s motion for summary judgment reasoning that Accor could not be held liable because there was no evidence that Accor controlled, owned, or operated the Motel.  Mr. Espinosa appealed to the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal asserting that Accor was directly negligent and that the company had authority over Bayou making them vicariously liable.     

To establish liability, a plaintiff must first show that the defendant had a duty to protect against the plaintiff’s injury.  To prove that defendant had a duty to protect against a property defect, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had custody over the thing which caused the damage and this thing contained a defect posing an unreasonable risk of harm which caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  See Wiley v. Sanders, 796 So. 2d 51, 55 (La. Ct. App. 2001).  The defective condition must be of a dangerous nature which would be reasonably expected to cause an injury to a prudent person using ordinary care.   A business has a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of its patrons.  However, this duty does not extend to unforeseeable injuries that were caused by the criminal acts of third parties.  See Mundy v. Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 609 So. 2d 909, 912 (La. Ct. App. 1992).  Moreover, vicarious liability will not apply to the principal when an independent contractor relationship exists and the principal actor does not control the contractor’s day to day operations. See Morales v. Davis Bros. Const. Co.,  647 So. 2d 1302, 1305 (La. Ct. App. 1994).   

the-pig-1189462-1024x807When employees are fired they can often be entitled to benefits upon termination; including money payments to act as a substitute salary while the terminated employee searches for another job. While there is no federal requirement in the United States for an employer to offer severance pay, many do as it can be an attractive benefit to potential employees. Many employers choose to adopt a plan that falls under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”).  Employers can get tripped up however when they fail to support a denial of severance pay by substantial evidence.   

In this case, Mr. Napoli was denied severance pay because the company he worked for claimed that he was terminated for violating company policies. Mr. Napoli was hired by Scios, Inc. in 2001 which was subsequently acquired in 2003 by Johnson and Johnson. He enrolled in the severance pay plan through Johnson and Johnson. After he was terminated, Mr. Napoli filed for severance pay and was initially told he was eligible. However, Johnson and Johnson later denied his claim asserting that Mr. Napoli committed a “Group 1 Violation” and that he made around $3,000 in wrongful charges to a corporate credit card. Mr. Napoli, in a wise move, hired an attorney who subsequently applied for severance pay again and requested additional information about why the claim was denied. Johnson and Johnson again denied the claim and included the provision of the severance agreement Mr.Napoli allegedly violated. Mr. Napoli appealed through the corporation’s internal procedures in 2012 and the claim was denied again.  

Mr. Napoli filed a lawsuit in state court alleging that the company denied him benefits without just cause and that such an act violated ERISA. Johnson and Johnson responded by removing the case to federal court and counterclaiming for $3,000 in unauthorized credit card charges. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana agreed with Johnson and Johnson that the denial was based on a reasonable interpretation of the severance pay plan. Mr. Napoli appealed that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  

wreck-1459986-1024x686In nearly every case of injury to person or property, there is a time period during which you can bring a lawsuit. When that time period ends is determined by statute. Defendants in cases where the time has past may bring an exception of prescription to have these cases dismissed. But how many times and when the exception of prescription may be raised is an issue that took center stage in an automobile accident case from  Jefferson Parish.

On May 8, 2008, Pauline Herrera filed a lawsuit against Beatrice Gallegos and USAgencies Casualty Insurance Company. Ms. Herrera alleged that her vehicle was struck by Ms. Gallegos’s vehicle on May 8, 2007. In response, Ms. Gallegos filed an exception of prescription and answer, alleging that the accident actually occurred on May 7, 2007, and Ms. Herrera’s lawsuit was filed beyond the one-year prescriptive period.

A hearing on the exception of prescription was held and no exhibits were admitted into evidence. The judge for the Parish Court of the Parish of Jefferson suggested the best way to find out the date of the accident was to call the Kenner Police Department. The judge overruled the exception for lack of sufficient evidence.

When a natural disaster strikes the issue of insurance comes to the forefront. What can a homeowner do when their home is damaged but the insurance company delays and fails to pay? That was the case when a Kenner, Louisiana, couple had their wood floors ruined by Hurricane Isaac. After taking the company to court, the family was finally able to recover claims for the damages as well as sanction the insurance company for the delay.

japanese-porch-tsumago-1228438-1024x768Russell and Tracy Varmall owned a home in Kenner, Louisiana. Their home sustained damages during Hurricane Isaac in 2012. The home was insured by Bankers Specialty Insurance Company (“Bankers”) for wind damage and New Hampshire Insurance Company for flood damage.

The Varmalls initially made claims to Bankers after the hurricane, which included damages to their roof and attic, water damage to their living room ceiling, damages to their fence, and a claim for spoiled food. These claims were adjusted in a timely fashion and were not an issue in the case.