Articles Posted in Negligence

the-gas-station-1526346-768x1024Under Louisiana law, store owners can be held liable for damages if a customer is injured by an unsafe condition while visiting the premises. In November, 2011, Henry Moore, Jr. visited the Murphy Oil gas station and convenience store in Hammond, Louisiana. After making his purchases at the store’s counter, Moore started back toward his car when his foot came in contact with a black plastic pallet supporting a display of bottled water. Moore tripped and stumbled, but didn’t fall to the ground. He then reported the incident to manager on duty. After the incident, when Moore began to suffer back pain, Murphy Oil agreed to pay for Moore’s medical treatment. When Murphy Oil stopped paying for Moore’s treatment after approximately four months, Moore filed a lawsuit for damages, alleging that the water display created an unreasonably dangerous condition.

In Louisiana, merchants are required to exercise reasonable care to protect those who enter the premises.  This duty extends to keeping the premises safe from unreasonable risks of harm and warning customers of known dangers. See La. R.S. 9:2800.6. Courts have adopted a four-part balancing test to determine whether a condition is unreasonably dangerous. One part of the test involves determining whether the defective condition was “open and obvious.” In general, if a hazard in open and obvious, a defendant does not have a duty to protect against the hazard. See Hutchinson v. Knights of Columbus, 866 So. 2d 228, 235 (La. 2004).

The trial court, holding that the question of whether the bottled water display created an unreasonably dangerous condition was a factual dispute, denied Murphy Oil’s motion for summary judgment and set the matter for trial. Moore agreed to a $50,000 damages cap, and the court based its ruling on a contributory negligence spectrum. The court found that Moore was 25% at fault for his injuries and was awarded a judgment for $37,500 against Murphy Oil. Murphy Oil appealed, arguing both that the trial court erred when denying its motion for summary judgment, and that the trial court should have subtracted the medical expenses it had already paid when determining Moore’s award.

Qualified immunity is a concept that is designed to protect civil servants from lawsuits for their official actions. The “qualification” means that immunity does not operate for actions that are unlawful or that show extreme incompetence. Generally, under Louisiana law, law enforcement officers are entitled to immunity so long as their actions do not violate statutes or infringe on others’ constitutional rights. Negligence alone is not sufficient to limit immunity. An officer maintain qualified immunity up to the point of “going too far,” which is what happened during an incident at a Lafayette apartment in December, 2011. On that evening, Quamaine Mason stopped by his girlfriend’s apartment to pick up his dog when he saw the father of his girlfriend’s child and another man in the apartment with her. Mr. Mason proceeded to bang on the door until his girlfriend opened it. He threatened both men with his gun and they left the apartment. One of the men called the police, claiming Mr. Mason broke into the apartment with the intention of stealing the dog. Officer Martin Faul of the Lafayette Police Department arrived on the scene. When Officer Faul ordered Mr. Mason to put his hands up, the action revealed that Mr. Mason was carrying a firearm. Ultimately, Officer Faul fatally shot Mr. Mason seven times.  

Witness testimony at trial differed. Officer Faul testified that Mr. Mason was going to pull his gun, leading him to shoot Mr. Mason first. Mason’s girlfriend, however, testified that Mason was lying on the ground barely moving with his hands by his sides when at least two of Officer Faul’s shots were fired. Mr. Mason’s parents (the “Masons”), both individually and on behalf of their son, brought multiple claims against the officers involved and the police department.

The Masons’ claims were based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Officer Faul violated the US Constitution. First, his use of excessive force violated Mr. Mason’s Fourth Amendment rights; next, Officer Faul deprived Mason of substantive due process under the 14th Amendment by engaging in actions that “shock the conscience”; finally, Officer Faul violated Mason’s Eighth Amendment rights by acting with deliberate indifference to his medical needs after the shooting. The Masons also brought civil claims against the City of Lafayette. Officer Faul asserted the affirmative defense of qualified immunity, and the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was granted by the trial court. The Masons appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

the-old-school-1548001-1024x768In Louisiana, determining the allocation of fault is an important part of lawsuits because it directly impacts the damages you can be awarded. If you are found 40% at fault, then you will only be able to collect damages for 60% of total damages.

Bordelon was employed by Avoyelles Parish School Board as the girls’ basketball coach for Marksville High School. Bordelon held practice on Sunday, but showed up with allegedly an alcoholic beverage in his hand and allegedly appeared highly agitated. The next day, Bordelon did not arrive at school. The school principal, Allgood, and another coach went to Bordelon’s home to check on him. Bordelon told them he did not want them there. Later that day, Bordelon went to school and met with the principal. Bordelon was heard screaming and cursing. He then left the school and Allgood followed him. They got in a fight, the specifics of which are disputed. Allgood sought medical treatment for his injuries. Allgood then filed a lawsuit against Bordelon and the Avoyelles Parish School Board.

There was no dispute that Bordelon battered Allgood, so the case focused on whether Allgood contributed to the battery. The jury found that Allgood was 60% at fault, so he was awarded no money. Allgood appealed, arguing that the jury erred in assigning him 60% of the fault in causing the battery because he did not commit any intentional act that caused or contributed to the battery. Allgood also argued that the jury erred in failing to award him any general damages or damages for future medical expenses.  

body-massage-1428380-683x1024Imagine going to get a massage and leaving with an injury that forever altered your life. After such an injury, it is difficult to put a dollar value on these injuries. The following lawsuit discusses the types of damages that can be sought by a Plaintiff who believes that they have been injured by a massage gone wrong.

In October 2007, Maureen Jones received a Swedish massage from Larry Ashton, Jr., a massage therapist employed by Paris Parker Salon in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Jones reports that the massage therapist was “rough and aggressive” during the massage, causing her pain and discomfort. By the next day, she experienced sharp and burning pain. She sought medical attention and discovered she had ruptured a disc.

In October 2008, Jones sued Neill Corporation, who was doing business as Paris Parker Salons, Ashton, and ABC Insurance Company. She alleged that Ashton negligently performed the massage and he breached the reasonable standard of care, causing serious, permanent, and disabling injuries. The trial court found in favor of Jones and founding that Ashton breached the applicable standard of care. The trial court awarded damages consisting of pain and suffering, mental anguish and distress, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent disability, past lost wages, and past medical expenses.  

school-bus-1431472-1024x609Entrusting a child to the care of a school bus requires a certain amount of faith that they will arrive at the correct destination, safely.  For any parent or guardian this evokes a certain amount of anxiety. For a parent with a special needs child, this act of faith likely garners even greater angst. Unfortunately, one Lafourche Parish parent’s fears materialized when her special needs son was struck by a car at his bus stop one afternoon. Whether the Lafourche Parish School Board (“LPSB”) could be held responsible became an issue for a jury in this recent lawsuit.   

Thibodaux High School student Diamonte Bolden was hit by a car after exiting his school bus one afternoon in December of 2012.  Although only in ninth grade, Diamonte was seventeen years old at the time of the accident. He was in the special education program and contended with a variety of learning disabilities including language delays.  Diamonte’s bus stop was at an intersection located about half a mile from his home. The availability of sidewalks or other safe walking space along the walking route from bus stop to house was in dispute. Diamonte’s mother filed a lawsuit against LPSB, the driver of the car, and various others.  At issue in the lawsuit against LPSB specifically was whether LPSB could be held liable for failing to reasonably supervise a student in light of the bus stop location and whether the accident was foreseeable.

Louisiana law provides that a school board owes a duty of reasonable supervision over its students.  See Wallmuth v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 813 So.2d 341, 346 (La. 2002). Liability for inadequate supervision requires a finding of negligence plus a connection between the negligence of the school board and the damages suffered by the student. The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has the authority to promulgate regulations relating to the operation of school buses pursuant to La. R.S.17:164.

helicopter-1450413-2-683x1024For a negligence lawsuit to have any chance of survival, an essential element is to show the plaintiff had damages. Often these damages are obvious physical injuries.   Sometimes however, damages claimed are for emotional distress. Due to its intangible nature, emotional distress can be extremely difficult to prove and a lawsuit for such damages can be equally difficult to maintain.  In a recent case out of the Parish of Lafayette, a Louisiana man failed to prove all the necessary elements to sustain his emotional distress lawsuit despite the lawsuit centering on a helicopter crash.

Plaintiff Hayward Allen worked on an offshore rig owned by an oil company.  Mr. Allen took a helicopter to his job site. Defendant PHI, Inc. (“PHI”) owned and operated the helicopters delivering the employees to the rig. In December 2009, one of PHI’s helicopters rolled over while dropping off some passengers on the rig where Mr. Allen was working. No one was injured in the accident. Mr. Allen did not even see the incident because he was sixty feet below the helipad when it occurred. Because of this incident however Mr. Allen claimed he could no longer work because he was now too afraid of helicopters. Mr. Allen alleged to be suffering from chest pains, sleep problems, anxiety and elevated blood pressure from the emotional distress brought upon him from the helicopter incident. Mr. Allen filed a lawsuit in the Judicial District Court for the Parish of Lafayette. The District Court granted a directed verdict in favor of PHI because Mr. Allen failed to offer any evidence of PHI’s liability or negligence.   

A directed verdict is granted only when the evidence overwhelmingly points to one conclusion.  See Carter v. Western Kraft Paper Mill, 649 So.2d 541, 544 (La. Ct. App. 1994).  The facts must so strongly support judgment in favor of one party that the court must determine reasonable people could not reach a contrary verdict.  Directed verdicts do not require the assent of the jury. See La. C.C.P. art 1810.  To have any chance at success in a negligence claim, including an emotional distress claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.  See La. C.C. art 2315.6.  

police-car-1414442-1-1024x683Car accidents can have long-lasting effects that are not immediately apparent at the time of the accident. Victims may initially report that they do not suffer from pain, only to be struck with it days, weeks, or even months later. This pain can have debilitating effects on one’s current and future career, as well as on one’s mental well-being and relationships with others. If a victim is not careful with the doctor he or she chooses or the actions he or she takes, a jury may dispute the damages (money) a victim may be entitled to.  If a personal injury case makes it to court, it is best to reach the ideal verdict at the trial court level, rather than at the appeals level. The following case illustrate this.

Sheila Tate and her friend Joyce Lee were driving down an intersection on Scenic Highway and 68th Avenue, when Baton Rouge Police Officer Kenney (operating a vehicle owned by the City of Baton Rouge) collided with Tate’s vehicle. Tate’s child, Jordan, and Lee’s child, Imiricle, were also in the car during the collision. The collision resulted in multiple injuries.

The initial emergency room assessments for the Tate and Lee each reported no (or minimal) pain. Yet, Tate’s treatment involved a variety of doctors, where she underwent a series of medications and physical therapies before ultimately being given a “pass” by one of her last doctors to resume work.  The same was said of Lee, who went through a series of doctors before she eventually stopped complaining of pain. Tate and Lee filed a lawsuit, and on behalf of their respective children, seeking damages stemming from the car collision.

12-email-03-03-2019-pictureLife deals some people a tough hand. For Geneva Fils, a Louisiana infant in the foster care system, a car crash and severe injuries followed by a lengthy lawsuit added to her list of problems.

The Louisiana Department of Social Services (now known as the Department of Children and Family Services) took Geneva away from her biological parents following her birth. Several months later, on March 22, 2006, Geneva was in a car along with her foster parent, Mayola Calais and the driver Jennifer Hayes. Charles Guidry was driving in the opposite direction when he crossed the centerline, striking Geneva’s vehicle head-on. Geneva, who purportedly was improperly restrained in the vehicle, suffered a fractured skull among other serious injuries. Geneva’s biological parents filed a lawsuit on behalf of themselves and Geneva against the driver Guidry, her foster parent Calais, the driver Hayes, the State of Louisiana through the Department of Children and Family Services, and their insurance companies.

This particular decision came from an appeal of a motion for partial summary judgment involving a Louisiana statute which limited damages to $500,000 for any division or agency of the Louisiana government held liable for personal injury damages. See LSA-R.S. 13:5106(B)(3)(c) (2017). Plaintiffs argued that the individual defendants do not enjoy the protection of the damages cap, because unlike the Department of Children and Family Services, they are not a “state agency.” See LSA-R.S. 13:5102 (2017). The judge granted the Department’s motion as it concerned the Department’s liability for its negligent actions, but denied the motion regarding the Department’s vicarious liability for the actions of its agents. Both the Department and the plaintiffs appealed.

37-Email-03-03-19-1024x986Generally, individuals expect that when on the premises of a public entity, the land has been safely maintained and there is a low risk of becoming injured. If an individual did become injured, he or she would expect to be reasonably compensated for any injuries. However, in Louisiana, premises liability law differs from the law that is applied when suing a private landowner. As this case shows, establishing that a defect causes an unreasonable risk of harm is a difficult obstacle to overcome when suing a public entity and can leave injured parties with no compensation for their injuries.

A man who was seriously injured on the property Ville Platte Housing Authority (VPHA) was not allowed to recover damages for his injuries. Marcushawn Smith, the injured man, was walking on the grass when he fell and seriously injured his ankle in a six inch wide and more than four-inch deep hole on VPHA’s property. Mr. Smith filed a lawsuit against the VPHA, the Louisiana Housing Council, Inc., and FARA Insurance Services, Inc. to recover compensation for his injuries. The Louisiana Housing Council and FARA Insurance were later dismissed from the case. At the trial court in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the judge decided the hole that Mr. Smith fell in did not create an unreasonable risk of harm, dismissing Mr. Smith’s claim against VPHA. Mr. Smith appealed this judgment to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, arguing that because he fell and was seriously injured, the trial court committed legal error by finding that the hole did not create an unreasonable risk of harm.

On appeal, the judge relied on a 2012 Louisiana Supreme Court case which stated that states that in order to recover for damages, the injured party must establish five facts: (1) the public entity had ownership of the defective thing; (2) the defect created an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) the public entity was or should have been aware of the defect; (4) the public entity failed to fix the defect in a reasonable time; and (5) the defect is the cause of the complainant’s injury. See Chambers v. Village of Moreauville, 85 So.3d 593, 597 (La. 2012). Usually, as was the case here, the second criteria is the hardest for an injured party to overcome.

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.