Articles Posted in Strict Liability

out-of-place-1184032-1024x590It is common for Louisiana residents who are injured due to another person’s negligence to seek financial compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Typically, these types of lawsuits will pursue compensation to cover medical expenses that are incurred by the victim for the treatment of the injury they suffered, among other damages. That is exactly the approach that Destiny Guidry decided to take after she claimed that she was injured in an incident at a grocery store in Lake Charles back in 2011.

According to Ms. Guidry, she was injured on June 14, 2011, when she was struck by a stock cart that was loaded with canned goods. The stock cart was under the control of a store employee, Kenneth Wyant. Mr. Wyant did not deny that there was an incident in which he claimed he had to stop the stock cart suddenly, resulting in some cans potentially hitting Ms. Guidry on the leg. But, he did deny that Ms. Guidry was injured in any significant way.  Ms. Guidry, on the other hand, claimed that she suffered a serious injury to her ankle in this incident, resulting in a trip to the emergency room four days later on June 18, 2011, and again on June 28, 2011. Then, in March of 2013, 21 months after the incident in the grocery store, Ms. Guidry ultimately had surgery on her ankle. Ms. Guidry filed a personal injury lawsuit against the grocery store and the store employee, Mr. Wyant. The case was tried before a jury.

The first question for the jury was whether the store employee, Mr. Wyant, was at fault for the incident that occurred at the grocery store on June 14, 2011. The jury answered “no” to this question, ending deliberations. Before the case was dismissed with prejudice, i.e., the claim was foreclosed from ever being brought in court again, Ms. Guidry asked the Trial Court for a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict.” This is a legal procedure whereby a party asks the court to enter a judgment that is different from the jury’s conclusion on the basis that the jury made a manifest error in reaching its conclusion. In this case, Ms. Guidry claimed that the manifest error was the jury’s finding that Mr. Wyant was not at fault for the incident on June 14, 2011, especially since Mr. Wyant had not denied that some type of incident had in fact occurred, which was supported by corroborating testimony. The Trial Court denied Ms. Guidry’s motion and she appealed to the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

A few months after being in a car wreck, the unthinkable happens, and as a result of the accident, your loved one passes away. As you are mourning the loss, you also have to start thinking about your legal options that stem from the crash and the possible avenues you have as a “survivor” of your loved one in order to receive some damages from the liable person. While this seems somewhat callous to talk about, especially in light of the pain you are already in from losing someone close to you, it is necessary to begin thinking about this somewhat quickly if you are going to actually be able to bring a survival action.

First, though, what exactly is a survival action? In simple terms, a survival action is an action for damages (an award of money) for injuries incurred by the deceased right before dying. You can think of a survival action as a lawsuit for injuries incurred that the actual deceased would have been able to bring had he or she not passed away. Since the decedent is not able to bring the suit himself or herself, the decedent’s estate has to bring the suit. This is typically a child or other close relative. (States will specify exactly which family members are allowed to bring a survival action in that state.)

Along with deeming who can bring a survival action, states also specify during what timeframe individuals are allowed to bring such a lawsuit. This is not because the state or the courts do not want individuals to be able to recover, but rather because a timeframe has to be set so that the liable individual does not have an indefinite period of time during which to worry about the possibility of a lawsuit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a judge’s dismissal of the People’s Republic of China and a Chinese company, Xiamen, from litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The appeals court agreed with the trial court that the federal judiciary lacked personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction over the Chinese company and the PRC, respectively. The result was that the district court could not enforce an arbitral award under the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, also known as the New York Convention.

The underlying issue is a contract dispute between Covington Marine Corporation and Xiamen Shipbuilding. Pursuant to their contract’s arbitration clause, the dispute went to arbitration under the rules of the London Maritime Arbitration Association. The tribunal found neither side liable, but issued a separate award requiring Covington to pay 40% of the costs and Xiamen 60%. Xiamen then filed a petition in a Chinese court to have the liability award recognized and enforced. Covington did the same with the costs award.

Meanwhile, Covington appealed to the English High Court. The High Court found Xiamen liable, ordered Xiamen to pay 100% of the costs to Covington, and sent back the case to the tribunal for modification of the award. The arbitral tribunal changed their ruling and Covington petitioned the Chinese court to recognize the new awards.

A case arising out of a St. Martin Parish accident has shed light on the responsibility placed on drivers following behind another vehicle. According to Journet v. Mouton out of the Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit, a driver following another vehicle must exercise great care. The case arose out of an accident where a man and his family swerved to miss a slowing sheriff’s deputy, crossed the center line, and slammed into a ditch on the other side of the road. The driver of the vehicle was severely injured and was left quadriplegic.

Reports indicate the deputy was responding to an emergency call but had missed the driveway and was slowing to turn around in another drive. The driver of the following vehicle, who was driving without a license, knew the officer knew him and knew he did not have a license. Therefore, the following driver deliberately chose not to pass the deputy and claimed there were no brake lights and no turn signal used by the deputy. However, the plaintiff’s wife contradicted this testimony, stating that she did see brake lights and a turn signal. The defendants filed for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court and affirmed by the Court of Appeal.

To reach its decision, the court looked to relevant Louisiana statutes. Most pertinent amongst these is La.R.S. 32:81(A), which states a driver shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and shall have regard for the speed of the other vehicle. The court also looked to a Louisiana Supreme Court interpretation of the matter, which held that it is the duty of the following driver to exercise a great deal of care and to keep a safe distance behind the lead car.

A recent case arising from occurrences in West Carroll Hospital considers the Louisiana and federal antidumping laws. In addition, it also explains the requirements for a case under medical malpractice. Several hospitals were involved in the case, but only two were actually involved in the suit. A woman who had serious kidney and urinary problems was admitted to West Carroll Hospital; however, once the hospital realized that they did not have the specialized equipment to treat her, they desperately tried to find somewhere to transfer her that did have the ability to help her. After several days of miscommunications, the woman died because they could not transfer her fast enough to address her medical issues. Her six daughters then attempted to find some kind of remedy against the hospitals for the wrongful death of their mother.

In Louisiana, La. R.S. 40:2113.4-2113.6, the “antidumping law,” requires hospitals to take patients who need emergency services and live in the territorial area regardless of whether they are able to pay for their care or if they have insurance. Federal law has the same type of requirement under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act even specifies that hospitals cannot turn away patients who have Medicare or Medicaid, and hospitals cannot discriminate based on race, religion, economic status, or national ancestry.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act further defines “emergency” as a “physical condition which the person in imminent danger of death or permanent disability.” The definition of “emergency services,” then, is “those services which are available in the emergency room and surgical units in order to sustain the person’s life and prevent disablement until the person is in a condition to travel.” Louisiana law requires that the patient be stabilized before they are moved to another facility. However, the Louisiana antidumping law does not permit a private cause of action. That is, an individual cannot sue the hospital for a violation of this law. Even if they could, however, the first hospital, West Carroll, admitted her without incident, so there would be no claim under the antidumping law.

Doctors at the Women and Children’s Hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana, botched Beverly Lebouef’s surgery in 2003. Eventually Lebouef sought legal advice and brought action against her surgeon. Much later in the pre-trial phase, arguably over a year later, she added a new doctor to his lawsuit who had helped perform one of the surgeries. The question is not about prescribed medication, but “prescription periods” and the accompanying rules.

In Louisiana, no action for damages for injury against any physician or hospital shall be brought unless filed within one year from the fate of the alleged act or negligence or within one year from the date of discovery of the alleged act or negligence. This period is considered a prescriptive period. Prescription begins when a plaintiff becomes aware of facts that would suggest to a reasonable person that he or she suffered injury that could be remedied by law. Prescription starts even if the plaintiff does not have actual knowledge, but constructive knowledge, which is the minimum amount of notice required to make the injured plaintiff aware and allow for the injured plaintiff to inquire further. If the notice is enough to make reasonable victim aware, then prescription has begun.

A plaintiff’s apprehension that something is wrong does not start prescription except when the plaintiff knew or should have known through reasonable diligence that the plaintiff’s issues may have resulted from medical malpractice. The crucial issue is the plaintiff’s reasonableness in taking action or not acting, which considers the plaintiff’s education, intelligence, symptom severity and the defendant’s conduct.

Going to the hospital can be an unsettling experience. There are many ways treatment can go wrong and result in serious injury or death. Medical conditions can be misdiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed, wrong prescriptions or doses can be prescribed, and surgical errors can occur. When these mistakes happen and a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed against a doctor and hospital, the trier of fact must determine three elements in order to decide whether or not medical malpractice occurred, which often requires a careful examination of a doctor’s standard of care.

In a recent case heard by the Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit, Crockham v. Thompson, a woman filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against her mother’s doctor and hospital after her mother died from a brain hemorrhage induced by high blood pressure. According to the lawsuit, the mother had been paraplegic for 20 years and often suffered from bowel blockages. In this instance, the woman went to the hospital to have a blockage removed, but failed to get better after the operation was completed. The plaintiff took her mother back to the hospital where she was given oral medication for her high blood pressure, but she later suffered the stroke and her family chose to take her off life support.

In her wrongful death claim against the doctor, the plaintiff in this case claimed the doctor breached his duty of care to the deceased. The plaintiff claimed the blood pressure medication should have been given intravenously rather than by pill because the pill would have bypassed her mother’s non-functioning bowel. Also, the plaintiff suggested the standard of care had been breached because the doctor failed to make his daily round in the morning, failed to admit the patient to the ICU, and failed to develop a cardiovascular profile for the patient. The plaintiff supported her argument with the fact that the hospital’s medical board had found the doctor breached the standard of care. However, at trial, a jury found for the doctor and denied the plaintiff compensation. The Court of Appeal affirmed.

We’ve all been there: you’re running late for work, so you rush out the door and into your car. You drive ever so slightly above the speed limit, and all the traffic lights you come across are green. Fortune seems to be on your side. Suddenly, a car seemingly comes out of nowhere and hits you. Are you partially to blame because you were in a rush and drove over the speed limit? If you are liable, how does it affect your ability to collect damages from the other driver and his or her insurance company?

Laura McKinney of Shreveport, Louisiana, faced those very questions after she collided with another driver on the morning of July 23, 2009. She was running late for her 6:00 a.m. shift at Holy Angels Residential Facilities, and the accident occurred just as she turned into its parking lot. A co-worker was leaving the parking lot and cut across several empty parking spaces to enter the main travel lane when she collided with McKinney. Neither party reported any injuries at the time, but McKinney developed left knee pain three weeks later and was diagnosed with a left knee contusion. She subsequently filed a lawsuit against the other driver and her insurance company.

At trial, several witnesses to the accident provided vital eyewitness accounts to help the court determine who was at fault. One witness testified that it appeared that McKinney was driving faster than the parking lot’s signed speed limit of 15 miles per hour. Another witness, however, testified that she did not think McKinney was driving above the speed limit. After weighing the evidence, the trial court ruled that McKinney was 40 percent at fault and the other driver was 60 percent at fault. McKinney’s damages award was therefore reduced by 40 percent, and the trial court entered a judgment in her favor in the amount of $7,632.60. McKinney appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that she was 40 percent at fault and that the trial court also erred in awarding her an excessively low amount of damages.

Imagine taking your mother to the emergency room for abdominal pain and vomiting. A CT scan and x-ray do not reveal any serious medical issues, and blood work merely shows that her potassium level is low. But within a few hours, she is dead. Now imagine witnessing her death – seeing her break out in convulsions, foam at the mouth, gasp for breath, and lose consciousness.

Such was the experience of one of Virginia Martin’s thirteen adult children. Ms. Martin’s daughter, Betty Farmer, brought her to the emergency room after Ms. Martin complained of abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Ms. Martin was 69 years old, and she was otherwise in very good health at the time of her hospital visit. She did not have any heart problems or other serious health-related issues.

The ER physician determined that she suffered from simple gastroenteritis. A chest x-ray came back normal. Ms. Martin began to receive pain medication via an IV, and her blood work revealed that her potassium was low. A CT was performed and showed that there were no abdominal abnormalities that could have caused her gastric distress. Ms. Martin returned from the CT scan to the ER at 9:35 p.m. By 9:44, Ms. Martin started convulsing, her face turned red, she began to foam at the mouth, and her eyes rolled into the back of her head. She lost consciousness, and efforts to resuscitate her failed. Her cause of death was listed as acute cardiac arrhythmia and arteriosclerotic heart disease.

In Louisiana, a civil law doctrine known as “prescription” limits the amount of time that may pass before someone files a lawsuit. Prescription is the extinction of a right of recovery and occurs due to a failure to exercise that right over a period of time. In other states, this doctrine may be referred to as a statute of limitations or a statute of repose. Louisiana’s prescription period for filing a lawsuit based upon personal injury is one year. Often this doctrine is not an issue in litigation, but in a recent case in St. Tammany Parish, one doctor’s objection of prescription has fundamentally altered the life of a woman, alleging to have suffered from medical malpractice.

On November 21, 2008, Glenda DeBram was hospitalized by her attending physician, Dr. Keshelava, after complaining of painful urination, fever, and cough. On October 15, 2009, pursuant to LSA-R.S. 40:1299.47(A)(2)(a), Ms. DeBram filed a request for a medical review panel with the Patient’s Compensation Fund. According to her request, Ms. DeBram alleged that St. Tammany Parish Hospital and Dr. Keshelava fell below the standard of care owed to her between November 21, 2008 and October 20, 2009. Subsequently, Dr. Keshelava filed a peremptory exception raising the objection of prescription, arguing that Ms. DeBram’s complaint was prescribed on its face as it was filed on January 29, 2010, which was more than one year following her discharge from the hospital stay during which she claims Dr. Keshelava and the hospital breached the standard of care. As such, on September 16, 2010, the trial court sustained the exception and dismissed Ms. DeBram’s medical malpractice claims.

The prescriptive period for a medical malpractice claim is contained in LSA-R.S. 9:5628A. Any action seeking damages, regardless of whether for a fatality or the severity of injuries, and whether against a doctor, nurse, or the hospital within which they work, may be brought unless the action is brought within 365 days (1 year) from when the incident or injury occurred or was found to have occurred, regardless of whether the act was that of unintentional or intentional neglect, omission or some other form of injury. Even with claims filed within the time limit, the law suit must be filed within three years of the incident’s occurrence, regardless of discovery