Articles Posted in Litigation

6-email-03-03-19-PictureOne bad decision can lead to a huge legal headache. The combination of a chaotic atmosphere and alcohol makes bars the perfect storm for mistakes that can later lead to huge liability. In a recent case, a man who punched another patron at a Tangipahoa Parish bar appealed a default judgment that awarded the victim over $100,000 dollars for personal injury damages and medical expenses.

After Ryan Martinez walked onto the bar’s dance floor to break up a fight between his friend and Trevor Wilson, Wilson allegedly turned to Martinez and punched him in the face. Martinez alleged that this punch fractured his mandible; he had to have his mouth wired shut for eight weeks and he could not eat solid foods or work. This small scuffle on the dance floor led to life-changing consequences.

Martinez filed a lawsuit against Wilson, the bar, and their respective insurance companies. Summary judgment was filed by the bar and it’s insurance companies wherein they argued that there were no facts present that could show that they could be held liable in this lawsuit. Martinez was required to present proof to the contrary to defeat the summary judgment. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit against the bar because the court found that the bar was not liable under tort as a matter of law. Wilson never appeared to answer the lawsuit, so the trial court awarded a default judgment of over $100,000 dollars to Martinez after he filed a Motion for Default and went to a hearing on that Motion. See La. C.C. art. 1702 (2017). Even when there was no opponent because Wilson never appeared in court, Martinez still had to use admissible evidence to prove his injury.

hole-1576687-1-658x1024Determining liability when someone is injured on someone else’s property is a complex endeavor. One of the major factors is determining whether the injury resulted from an unreasonably dangerous condition.

While a new In & Out Express Car Wash was being built in Metairie, LA, local business owner Mr. Frederick Helwig fell into a hole, sustaining injuries. Mr. Helwig was well aware of the construction going on, as he owned the business next door and had watched the construction progress for 6 months. When Mr. Helwig was injured, he was crossing the construction site at 10:30PM and did not use a flashlight or any sort of illumination to light his way.

The injured Mr. Frederick Helwig had the burden of proof to establish liability, that In & Out Express Car Wash (1) had a duty to conform conduct to a specific standard, (2) that the defendant failed to conform to the standard, (3) that the defendant’s conduct in failing to live up to the standard caused plaintiff’s injuries, (4) that the defendant’s conduct was a legal cause of plaintiff’s injuries, and (5) that the plaintiff has proof of the actual damages done to them. See Detraz v. Lee, 950 So. 2d 557, 565 (La. 2007).  Specific to the case of a dangerous condition on land, the injured Mr. Helwig had to prove that the hole was in In & Out Express Car Wash’s control, it presented an unreasonable risk of harm, that the defendant knew or should have known of the unreasonable risk, and that the damage was caused by In & Out Express Car Wash. See Babino v. Jefferson Transit, 110 So. 3d 1123, 1126 (La. Ct. App. 2013). At the crux of this case, the injured Mr. Helwig had to prove that the danger, the hole in the ground, was not open and obvious. Even if the hole was unreasonably dangerous, in that it would injury anyone who fell in it, there will be no liability if the dangerous or defective condition is obvious and apparent. See Bufkin v. Felipe’s La., LLC, 171 So. 3d 851, 856 (La. 2014).

69-Email-03-03-19-1024x512Zoning issues can seemingly arise out of nowhere and affect the way you choose to use your property. It is important to stay up to date with local zoning ordinances and have a good lawyer to guide you with upcoming projects or changes that may be affected. It is equally important to also be aware of what happens when zoning changes do affect, and even cancel, these projects. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana addressed this issue when a Terrytown, Louisiana property was rezoned by the Jefferson Parish Council on December 12, 2007.

The Berrys purchased two adjoining parcels of property in 1998 and 2000, consisting of over four acres of land located in the Elmwood Subdivision and on Behrman Highway along the west bank of Jefferson Parish. This property was zoned as a Multiple Use Corridor District (“MUCD”), allowing for diverse commercial use of the land. On October 13, 2006, the Berrys and Volunteers of America, Inc. (the “VOA”) entered a purchase agreement to develop the property into a high-density, multi-level housing facility for the elderly. While the VOA made preparations for the project, the Jefferson Parish Council executed a zoning and land use area study that covered 23.67 acres, including the property owned by the Berrys.

The VOA project came to a halt due to a moratorium, an order of postponement, on the issuance of building permits for the area within the study, as required by the Parish Code. When the study came to an end, the VOA project ended as well; the study concluded with the Parish Council changing the zoning of the front portion of the Berry property from MUCD to C-1 (Neighborhood Commercial District), and the rest of the property zoned as R-1A (Single-Family Residential). Though the zoning changes were consistent with the Parish’s 2003 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, they were inconsistent with the VOA project.

61-Email-03-03-19-1024x680The loss of loved ones is never easy, especially when they are taken away in sudden, unexpected ways. Though there is no dollar value that can replace human beings, monetary damages are a form of recovery in cases of wrongful death. Sometimes the steps to that recovery can be difficult, especially when insurance is involved. This issue was explored in a wrongful death action brought to the Twenty-Ninth Judicial District Court in St. Charles Parish.

On May 26, 2013, a head-on collision with another vehicle killed Esther Centeno and her unborn fetus. On behalf of Esther’s minor daughter, Laylonie Polanco, Carlos Polanco—Laylonie’s father—filed a wrongful action against the driver of the other vehicle in the collision: Jennifer Englade. The action was also brought against Ms. Englade’s insurer, National Automotive Insurance Company (“National”).

National filed a motion for summary judgment, a motion for judgment as a matter of law when there is no genuine issue of material fact. La. C.C.P. art. 966 (2017). In the motion, National argued that Ms. Englade was not covered by National at the time of the accident because her automobile insurance policy was canceled on March 30, 2013, due to failure to pay for a premium. In support of the motion, National provided a declarations page of Ms. Englade’s policy, the notice of cancellation, and affidavits of “Preparation of Cancellation Notice” and “Mailing” dated March 18, 2013. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment and Mr. Polanco appealed.

40-post-photo-1024x683Do you ever wonder what happens if you get into an accident in a company vehicle when on your lunch break? Whether it is using the company car to pick up food or a quick stop at the mall to grab a birthday gift, most of us have had the thought cross our minds. A recent State of Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal (“the Court”) case dealt with this very issue.

Melvin Sharp and his work supervisor drove to a bank to cash their paychecks on their lunch break in Prairieville, Louisiana. Sharp and his supervisor were both employees of Ellis Electric Company (“Ellis Electric”) and used a company-owned truck to run the errand. In the bank parking lot, another vehicle hit Sharp and his supervisor in the company-owned truck. Sharp was not driving the truck at the time, his manager was.

Sharp brought a lawsuit against his co-passenger and work supervisor, as well as Ellis Electric and their liability insurance provider, United Fire, seeking compensation for injuries from the car accident. Ellis Electric and United Fire’s attorneys motioned for summary judgment, stating Sharp was in the course and scope of his employment, and accordingly, he could only receive workers’ compensation. Ellis Electric further stated it was company policy to allow workers to use company vehicles on their breaks for personal errands. Sharp countered, stating he was not in the course and scope of his employment because he was not driving the company vehicle, his manager was, and that he was entitled to seek additional damages.

39-post-photo-1024x683Most customers do not expect to be hurt by store merchandise when they go shopping. Yet, each year dozens of individuals are injured due to “falling merchandise.” The following Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal (“the Court”) case is a perfect example of what happens when an individual seeks legal action for being injured by a store’s falling merchandise.

Darry Hughes and his co-worker sought to purchase a plastic storage bin from Home Depot for their East Baton Rouge office. Inside the store, Hughes was injured when he removed a plastic bin from a shelf using both hands and was unable to stop another bin behind it from falling onto his face. Hughes brought a lawsuit against Home Depot U.S.A. (“Home Depot”) for the injuries he sustained from the alleged incident on the grounds that the bin was unstably stored.

Home Depot motioned the trial court for summary judgment, claiming that Hughes could not prove he did not cause the bin to fall upon himself and that he lacked evidence to show Home Depot was negligent or caused the injury he received. To show their purported innocence, Home Depot called in a twelve-year employee of the company, who testified that in all of his time there he had never heard of or seen an incident report where a product had fallen from a shelf.

vacancy-1232656-1024x768Ever feel like you have been wrongfully brought to court? If so, then what legal remedies do you have at your disposal? In Louisiana, the law provides a person who has wrongly been brought to court with a tort cause of action called abuse of process. A recent Fifth Circuit Louisiana Court of Appeal decision highlights some of the procedural and legal requirements for this lesser known tort.

The alleged “frivolous” lawsuit centers around an eviction lawsuit. Allicen and Kenneth Caluda filed an eviction lawsuit against Fifth Business, LLC (“Fifth Business”). In the lawsuit, the Caludas also added No Drama, LLC (“No Drama”) as a defendant. Nearly seven years after the eviction lawsuit, No Drama filed an abuse of process lawsuit. To prove an abuse of process claim, No Drama needed to prove 1) the Caludas sued No Drama for an improper purpose and 2) the Caludas engaged in improper conduct during the prosecution of the action. See Goldstein v. Serio, 496 So. 2d 412, 415 (La. Ct. App. 1986). No Drama alleged the Caludas improperly filed suit in order to hold the company financially liable for the couple’s lease dispute with Fifth Avenue. It also claimed that the cost of defending the lawsuit, after informing the couple of its independent status, forced it to halt operations. The Caludas’ countered, arguing that No Drama was prescribed from bringing the abuse of process claim because it failed to file the claim within the appropriate time period required by Louisiana law which, for an abuse of process claim, is one year. The trial court agreed with the Caludas, dismissing No Drama’s lawsuit. No Drama appealed the trial court’s ruling.

On appeal, No Drama argued that the prescription period never commenced because the underlying eviction case needed to be decided prior to it bringing the abuse of process lawsuit. No Drama also argued the prescription period was suspended because Caludas was committing a “continuous tort.” A continuous tort is an ongoing unlawful course of conduct that results in uninterrupted injury to the plaintiff. Crump v. Sabine River Auth., 737 So.2d 720, 728 (La. 1999). No Drama alleged the Caludas, by maintaining a wrongful lawsuit and causing ongoing financial injury, committed a continuous tort and therefore, the prescription period was suspended or tolled as a result.

books-illustations-1489534-768x1024Labor contracts are often tricky and scary because potential employees generally find it difficult to negotiate with employers for terms favorable to them, while employers use standard contracts with terms potential employees don’t understand or aren’t used to seeing, which guarantee the employers a better deal.

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), whose purpose is to provide protection to employees from unfair labor practices of employers, provides that an employer commits an unfair labor practice when it coerces or prevents employees from engaging in their legal rights, including, but not limited to, the rights of employees to band together in a union or otherwise. A recent case out of the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (“the Court”) addressed this problem in a labor contract case between a retail gas station and its employee.

Murphy Oil Inc. (“Murphy Oil”) operates retail gas stations in many cities in the United States, but the following dispute takes place at the Calera, Alabama location. Sheila Hobson, upon starting employment with Murphy Oil, was required to sign a binding arbitration agreement—an agreement which prevented herself and other employees working at this location from settling any disputes with management by any means other than arbitration—a process which would require both employee and employer to meet with a professional mediator for all legal claims.

shaking-hands-1240911-1024x768Leasing agreements often are complex and lengthy, especially in a commercial context. A common provision contained in most leasing agreements is an indemnity provision. An indemnity provision is a section in a leasing agreement that requires the leasee (the person who leases the property) to take responsibility for certain lawsuits involving the leased property. A recent decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeal for Louisiana illustrates the power of an indemnity provision.

The case revolves around a leased commercial building located in Bastrop, Louisiana. The building’s owner, Hollis Charles Larche, entered into a leasing agreement with Paul Eikert. Mr. Eikert obtained the lease in order to open up a grocery store. Contained in the lease is a provision that stated that Mr. Larche would be held harmless for any damages or injuries caused by defects on the building’s premises.

A couple of years after entering into the lease agreement, an employee of Mr. Eikert’s grocery store, Deborah Beebe, was injured while on the job. Ms. Beebe sustained her injuries after she slipped on water that came from a leak in the building’s ceiling. Ms. Beebe filed a lawsuit against Mr. Larche claiming that Mr. Larche knew of the leaking ceiling and failed to take appropriate measures to fix the leak. Mr. Larche, citing the indemnity provision contained in the leasing agreement, argued that Mr. Eikert is responsible for any damages resulting from Ms. Beebe’s injury. Mr. Eikert never responded to Mr. Larche’s claim that the indemnity provision allocated responsibility of Ms. Beebe’s injuries to Mr. Eikert. The trial court agreed, granting a default judgment on the issue for Mr. Larche. A default judgment is a judgment that a court can grant if one side in a legal matter fails to take steps to resolve the legal controversy. The default judgment is granted to the side who did take steps to resolve the legal controversy, in this case, Mr. Larche.

downtown-salt-lake-city-2-1446473-683x1024Buying a home is a complex and stressful process. Not only must a homebuyer make sure he or she has the required funds to purchase the home, but must also thoroughly check that the home is in good condition. Generally, determining the condition of a home is relatively easy. Under the law, a home-seller is obligated to disclose certain defects. Failure to do so can result in a lawsuit. A recent case from the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates the legal repercussions that can befall a home-seller when he or she withholds certain deficiencies in the condition of the home.

The case centers around a home purchased in Bossier City, Louisiana. The home-purchaser, Britney N. Jones bought a foreclosed house from Wells Fargo Bank (“Wells Fargo”). After purchasing the house, Ms. Jones discovered that it contained mold. The mold was discovered after an environmental assessment of the property. The assessment was undertaken because Ms. Jones’s children had developed respiratory and other health issues.

After discovering that the home she purchased contained mold, Ms. Jones brought a lawsuit against Wells Fargo alleging claims of redhibition and fraud. In Louisiana, a seller warrants a buyer against redhibitory defects. For a defect to be considered redhibitory it must render the thing useless or diminish its value in such a way that it could be presumed that the buyer would have not bought it or would have bought it at a much lower price. La. C.C. art. 2520 (2016). Defects that a buyer either knew of or that were apparent are excluded from the warranty of redhibition. When a defect is concealed within a home’s structure it is considered unapparent. See Amend v. McCabe, 664 So. 2d 1183 (La. 1995).