Articles Posted in Negligence

53-819x1024When driving at night, it is always important to make sure your vehicle lights are working, not just so you can see, but also so others can see you. Not only can this simple task avoid an accident, but failure to do so can get you in trouble with the law.

One night in March 2014, Mr. Roland Lege was driving on Highway 91 near Garden City, Louisiana, when he got into an accident with a tractor-trailer driven by Mr. Milton Livas. Mr. Lege claimed that the trailer was swaying back and forth from the right lane to the left and that the brake lights were not working, preventing Mr. Lege from seeing it properly. The Sixteenth Judicial District Court in the Parish of St. Mary, Louisiana heard the case that followed from the accident.

According to Louisiana law, trailers like the one Mr. Livas was driving must have lighted tail lamps displayed when the natural light is insufficient for others to see the trailer from five hundred feet. La. R.S. 32:301(A)(1) & (2). Mr. Lege, on the other hand, had a duty to not follow another motor vehicle more closely than is reasonable. La. R.S. 32:81(A). In rear-ending the trailer, there is a presumption that Mr. Lege was negligently driving too closely to it; however, he may rebut this presumption by proving he was driving at a safe distance or by showing that Mr. Livas was driving negligently and created a hazard that could not be reasonably avoided.

43-Email-1024x647When one is injured due to the negligence of another, it is reasonable to expect an award of damages. However, the plaintiff must first prove all the elements of negligence. Not only must a plaintiff prove the defendant had a duty of care which the defendant violated, but the plaintiff must also offer evidence that shows the defendant’s conduct was the factual and legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. For many cases, the causal connections can be difficult to prove and requires expert testimony. For these reasons, a good lawyer is essential for the successful outcome of a negligence suit.

Lloyd Richard was injured in Louisiana during an arrest for criminal charges when the police cruiser he was in backed into a ditch. Richard filed a lawsuit to seek recovery for his injuries. Richard testified that he was thrown forward into the bars of the vehicle, injuring his back and neck. Richard claims he told each officer he came in contact with that he was in need of medical attention. However, the officers that conducted Richards arrest testified otherwise.

The arresting officer testified that while he did back into a ditch there was no “forward and backward” or violent motions. He testified that he was driving “very slow” as he backed up from the street and entered the ditch. Furthermore, he contradicted Richard’s testimony claiming Richard did not communicate he had sustained neck and back injuries. Though Richard had a scratch underneath his eye, he offered conflicting testimony as to how he received the scratch.

image-for-post-70-from-email-5-14-19-1024x679The Louisiana Supreme Court has recognized that awarding damages for medical expenses without awarding pain and suffering damages, though seemingly inconsistent, is not invalid on its face. See Wainwright v. Fontenot, 774 So.2d 70 (La. 2000). Appellate courts afford juries great deference and disturb verdicts only when they are clearly and objectively unsupported by the evidence in the trial record. One such example of this can be seen in an auto accident case involving a “serial plaintiff.”

Joseph Wiltz was rear-ended in stop-and-go traffic by Maya Welch. Wiltz filed a petition in state court against Welch and her insurance company, State Farm, claiming he was injured in the accident. He sought damages for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering. The trial moved to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana by the defendants and the case proceeded to trial.

The defendants admitted Welch’s fault in the accident, leaving the main issue whether Welch’s negligence was the cause of Wiltz’s injuries. Discovery revealed that Wiltz was a “serial plaintiff” with pre-existing injuries that he failed to disclose to the doctors that treated him following the collision. Between 1991 and 2011, Wiltz had four different accidents and incidents that resulted in injuries to his neck, back, and shoulders. Furthermore, Wiltz told doctors that he’d never experienced back or neck pain previously and answered discovery in a similarly untruthful and incomplete manner. Even with the information concerning the pre-existing injuries, the jury still returned a verdict in favor of Wiltz; however, the jury awarded him compensation for past medical expenses only. Wiltz filed a motion for a new trial or an amendment to the judgment, contending the verdict amounted to an abuse of discretion by the jury. The district court denied the motion because Wiltz failed to prove he endured any compensable pain and suffering.

image-for-post-68-from-email-5-14-19-1024x683What happens when a person is injured due to a company’s negligence and the company is based outside of the United States? The plaintiff generally must file a lawsuit in federal court, but there are certain jurisdictional requirements that have to be met. A plaintiff’s ability to file a lawsuit against an international company in a U.S. district court depends on how much “contact” the company has with the United States.

Danny Patterson, a U.S. citizen, was working aboard the Luxembourg-flagged vessel M/V Simon Steven off the coast of Russia when he was struck by a cable and sustained injuries. He sued his employer and the several other companies involved in the project, including Aker Subsea (“Aker”) and FMC Kongsberg (“FMC”), for damages in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Both Aker and FMC moved to dismiss the petition for lack of personal jurisdiction, and after jurisdiction discovery, the district court found that jurisdiction over the defendants did not exist and granted the motions to dismiss. Patterson then sought to have the district court’s decision certified as final so he could appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b). Meanwhile, FMC was dismissed from the case through a separate motion which went unopposed by Patterson.

Before the Fifth Circuit, Patterson argued that Aker had sufficient contacts with the United States to establish general personal jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(2). He pointed to the fact that Aker had entered into multiple secondment agreements involving a U.S. location. Secondment agreements are used when an employee is temporarily assigned to work for another organization, or a different part of the organization, by their employer. In this case, Aker’s agreements spanned a three-year period of time, concerning employees working in Houston, Texas. Patterson argued that the employees assigned in Houston for a three year period established sufficient contacts for federal jurisdiction. 

image-for-post-50-from-email-5-22-19We often hear that insurance companies are stingy and heartless. Though some descriptions of insurance companies are exaggerated, it is nevertheless true that insurance companies are judicious in paying out claims. In some cases, an insurance company will attempt to avoid payment at almost any cost.  

Shawn Verges, a special education teacher at Fannie C. Williams Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana, suffered injuries when she was repeatedly slapped and pushed to the floor by one of her students during class. Following the incident, Verges sent a text message to the school principal’s administrative assistant describing the attack and requesting an accident report. Verges made several more requests for an accident report, but the school never created one. Within a week, Verges began to experience back, head, and neck pain, at which point she sought compensation from her employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier, AmTrust North America. AmTrust denied her claim on the basis that the school did not file an accident report or report the incident to AmTrust.

Verges then filed a disputed claim form against AmTrust. The trial court determined that Verges was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because the evidence showed that she suffered an injury while in the course and scope of her employment. AmTrust appealed, arguing that Verges fabricated the incident, pointing to the fact that that Verges returned to work after the alleged injury to bolster their argument. 

adult-bed-care-1498927-683x1024In personal injury cases, the plaintiff can only successfully prove the defendant’s negligence if a legal duty of care exists. Where there is no duty of care as a matter of law, a trial court can dismiss the lawsuit by summary judgment. So, when a defendant files a petition for summary judgment claiming that no duty exists, he is saying that even if all of the facts alleged by the plaintiff are true, there still is no duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. 

For several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Huey Chustz worked as an electrician’s helper at the Alma Plantation, a sugar mill in Point Coupee Parish, Louisiana. Chustz would routinely become covered in asbestos dust while working at the mill. He would return home in the evenings where his wife, Elizabeth Sutherland, would launder his clothing, a process which sent the dust into the air. In 2012, Sutherland was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. 

Based on her diagnosis, Sutherland filed a claim for damages against Alma Plantation. She died in 2013, after which her children were substituted as Plaintiffs. Alma filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it did not owe Sutherland a duty because her injuries were not foreseeable. The trial court granted Alma’s motion for summary judgment, which the Plaintiffs appealed the Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.

builders-building-construction-159306-1024x683The Louisiana statutory employer defense grants statutory employers the exclusive remedy protections of the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act. La. R.S. 23:1061. To become a statutory employer, a principal must enter into a written contract with a contractor for work to be performed in furtherance of the principal’s “trade, business, or occupation.” La. R.S. 23:1061 Moreover, where the principal pays compensation, it is entitled to indemnification from the contractor. La. R.S. 9:2780.1. Once an employer shows that they are a statutory employer under the law, they are entitled to immunity for tort liability that occurred in the course of the agreement with a contractor. The Louisiana Court of Appeal addressed the issue of whether a statute enacted in 2010 negates the statutory employer defense when a construction contract contains an indemnification clause or a hold harmless clause without paying for any of the cost of insurance. La. R.S. 9:2780.1.

In 2013, Christopher Michael Blanks (“Mr. Blanks”), was an employee of Wastewater Specialties, Inc. (“Wastewater”), the contractor, when he and some co-workers were assigned to perform repairs to a broiler at Entergy Gulf States Louisiana, LLC (“Entergy”), the statutory employer. Entergy issued a permit indicating the work area was safe for entry; however, they allegedly failed to inform Mr. Blanks and his co-workers of an unprotected open hole in a confined space where Mr. Blanks was working. Unfortunately, Mr. Blanks unknowingly stepped into the hole, causing him to fall approximately thirty (30) feet to the ground. He sustained serious injuries, and subsequently sued Entergy and its insurance.

Prior to the commencement of work at the Entergy facility, Wastewater and Entergy entered into an agreement that Entergy would be indemnified for personal injury claims brought by Wastewater employees. The trial court granted summary judgment on the grounds that the contract between Wastewater and Entergy was invalid and unenforceable because it provided an indemnity clause irrespective of fault. Additionally, the court noted Wastewater did not recover the cost of any insurance required under the contract.

architecture-asian-bird-s-eye-view-186537-1024x768When you are injured in an accident, it may be tempting to file a lawsuit against anyone and everyone who might have been even slightly involved in the chain of events. The pain and frustration of an accident leads some injured parties to try and make as many people pay as possible. This instinct, while perhaps useful, needs to be tempered with some common sense and a firm understanding of the law. And, if multiple defendants are going to be sued, sufficient evidence has to be presented to show each party’s involvement and their negligence in the accident. 

After an accident on the I-20, Mrs. Passon filed a lawsuit against not only the negligent driver and their insurer, but also the City of Ruston (“City”), the Lincoln Parish Police Jury (“Parish”), and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (“DOTD”). Clearly, she thought the intersection was inherently dangerous. After settling with the driver and insurance company, those two parties were dropped from the lawsuit. The City, the Parish and DOTD all filed motions for summary judgment to dismiss the case. The Parish asserted they had no custody or control of the area in which the accident occurred, while DOTD and the City stated the intersection posed no unreasonable risk of harm. DOTD and the City supported their motion with expert reviews of the intersection showing all traffic signals were in compliance with local regulations. They also presented the original construction plans for the intersection. Mrs. Passon countered the motion with a statement by an expert witness and newspaper articles about the intersection in question. 

Summary judgment is when the court decides for one party without a full trial. When the court examines all the information submitted for trial up to that point, such as the complaint, the defendant’s answer, evidence found during discovery, affidavits, depositions, etc., and finds there is no genuine dispute of fact between the parties, summary judgment is entered. La. C.C.P. art. 966. And though Louisiana state law allows a plaintiff to sue a public entity under La. R.S. 9:2800, the trial court granted the summary judgment motions. 

bus-locomotive-transportation-system-2261702-713x1024Once a trial court determines a judgment, it is difficult to obtain a reversal, especially if the judgment is one in which a jury awards compensation for a personal injury plaintiff. In the case below, the defendant appealed the amount the Trial Court awarded the plaintiff. The Appellate Court was deferential to the Trial Court’s judgment.

Joc-Kia Wilson suffered from cerebral palsy and thus moved around on a motor scooter. While she attempted to board a bus operated by Veolia Transportation Services in New Orleans, the wheelchair lift ramp had apparently malfunctioned and caused her to fall. When she visited a hospital, an MRI revealed that various parts of her body were sprained. Ms. Wilson filed a claim against Veolia Transportation Services for compensation. The Trial Court awarded a total of $19,879.00 to Ms. Wilson for her pain and suffering and medical expenses. This amount was reduced by forty percent because of Ms. Wilson’s fault in the accident. However, Veolia Transportation Services disagreed that Ms. Wilson was only forty percent at fault. Veolia also argued that the amount awarded to Ms. Wilson was faulty because she had not presented relevant evidence for her medical injuries. Veolia asked the Appellate Court to set aside the trial court’s decision.

An appellate court may cast aside a trial court’s finding of fact only if it is “clearly wrong.” Rosell v. ESCO, 549 So.2d 840 (La. 1989). In order to rule that a finding of fact is “clearly wrong,” the appellate court must first show that it cannot find any factual basis for its decision from the trial record. Second, the appellate court must determine from the record that the trial court’s finding is clearly wrong. Mart v. Hill, 505 So.2d 1120, 1127 (La. 1987). To put it simply, the appellate court must determine whether or not the decision made at the trial court level was a reasonable one. Cosse v. Allen-Bradley Co., 601 So.2d 1349, 1351 (La. 1992).

betting-casino-casino-machine-34201-1024x683Property owners have a responsibility to maintain safe conditions on their premises. However, if you are injured on someone’s property, there are still numerous elements you must prove in order to prevail on any lawsuit you may file for injuries arising from an unsafe premises. Establishing these elements can be especially challenging when you are injured from an activity that may be considered openly and obviously risky. This was this situation facing Mr. and Mrs. Marshall following Mrs. Marshall’s accident on an escalator at Jazz Casino in the Orleans Parish of Louisiana.  

Hyecha Marshall and her husband, Loyal, were frequent patrons of the Jazz Casino (“Casino”). Mrs. Marshall used a small wheelchair that the Casino provided her as a walker and cart. While walking in an underground tunnel connecting her hotel to the Casino, Mrs. Marshall discovered the elevator was out of service. Therefore, she decided to step onto the escalator, using her wheelchair as a walker. While riding the escalator, she lost her balance and fell to the floor. Her wheelchair subsequently fell down the escalator onto her. 

After Mr. and Mrs. Marshall filed a lawsuit against the Casino alleging that the Casino failed to warn about the risks of using the Casino-issued wheelchair as a walker and failing to maintain safe premises, the Casino moved for summary judgment. The Casino argued that Mrs. Marshall had not shown that there was an unreasonably dangerous condition in the Casino that caused her accident. Additionally, the Casino argued it did not have a duty to warn Mrs. Marshall about using its wheelchair as a walker while riding the escalator because the risk of injury was obvious and apparent. Summary judgment is appropriate when all the submitted pleadings and evidence show that there is no genuine issue of material fact. La. C.C.P. art. 966. The trial court granted the Casino’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the Marshalls’ lawsuit because it found that Mrs. Marshall had not established the Casino owed her a duty, which was an essential element of her negligence action.