Articles Posted in Strict Liability

Over the years, major advances in the field of transportation have made it relatively easy for people to move about the country. Many people find themselves in indefinite living situations, changing jobs, going to college or maybe just moving to a new area. In these types of circumstances, ownership may not be all that intriguing or feasible. Luckily, on the other end of the spectrum, there are usually handfuls of owners looking to rent or lease out their property. This perfect alignment of supply and demand leads to frequent property agreements. Although one hopes that everything runs smoothly throughout the occupation, inevitably sometimes accidents or problems may occur.

One specific type of problem that can be faced deals with the question of who is responsible for injuries or damages that result from a defect in the premises in which someone is not the owner. It is also important to note that agreements involving homeownership are not the only circumstances in which these particular problems may arise. Alternatively, one may find themselves injured somewhere they are visiting or momentarily staying at such as a hotel, museum, or baseball game.

In the state of Louisiana, in order to recover under the theory of premises liability, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. The plaintiff would likely be the one who does not own the premises and has been injured in some way. The plaintiff’s burden under Louisiana law consists of proving four things: 1) that the injuries were caused by a defect in the defendant’s premises that created an unreasonable risk of harm to the plaintiff; 2) that the defendant knew or should have known of the defect; 3) that the damage could have been prevented by the use of reasonable care; and, 4) that the defendant failed to exercise such reasonable care.

Public entities, such as the food bank in the City of Kenner, get special treatment when it comes to personal injuries. A plaintiff must prove that a hazard was not open and obvious in order to collect damages for their injuries. The thing must also pose an unreasonable risk of harm. However, if there is an unreasonably dangerous condition, the owner of the premises is supposed to either correct the danger or post some kind of warning for people passing by or using the premises.

Louisiana courts use a four-part test to determine whether a risk is unreasonable. First, the court will consider the utility of the thing, or its overall usefulness. Then, the court considers the likelihood and degree of the harm. Part of that determination considers the openness and obviousness of the condition. That is, they will attempt to consider how likely it is that someone will not notice the condition, and if they did not notice the condition, how badly they will be injured. Third, the court considers the cost of preventing the harm, or how much it would cost to fix the condition. Finally, the court will address how dangerous the plaintiff’s actions were in the first place. For example, if Plaintiff trips on a crack in the sidewalk, but he was running with scissors on public property, then the court will take that into consideration when determining if the crack in the sidewalk is related to his stab wound.

If Plaintiff satisfies all of these prongs, then the public entity will likely be to blame for the plaintiff’s injuries. The public entity faces strict liability if Plaintiff passes all four prongs. Strict liability is a very difficult standard for the public entity to face because there are no degrees of fault. It is either the city’s (or other pubic entity’s fault) or it is not. If Plaintiff meets all four prongs, fault has pretty much already been determined.

In order to hear a case, a court must have jurisdiction. Jurisdiction means that the court has legal authorization to hear that case. Without that authorization, parties must go somewhere else to try their case because that court cannot legally hear their arguments. There are two general types of jurisdiction: personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. The type of court occasionally limits subject matter jurisdiction. The tax court, for example, can only hear cases regarding tax disputes. Personal jurisdiction means that the court has some authority over the person. Ususally, if the parties live in the same area as the court, the court will have jurisdiction in the case.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for the State of Louisiana recently explained personal jurisdiction and its requirements in a case arising from the St. Bernard 34th Judicial District Court. In that case, the plaintiff lived in Louisiana, but the defendant, a real estate company was incorporated and did business in Tennessee. The plaintiffs were a couple that rented a cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. They made the reservation online. When they went to the cabin, however, the couple both slipped and fell on the wet steps of the cabin. The couple attempted to sue the real estate company in Louisiana state court.

Generally, if the parties are from two different states, then it is likely more appropriate to file the case in federal court. Federal courts have diversity jurisdiction, which allows them to settle issues between residents of different states. However, state courts can also occasionally hear cases that involve parties who are not from the same state.

There is no general duty for a business to protect customers from third party attackers. If someone attacks you outside of a store, for example, the store is usually not responsible for the injuries or damages that occur because of that attack. The Third Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana explained this concept in a case that originated in Alexandria City Court.

In June 2009, a woman and her mother were attending a bingo fundraising event for the local school football team. They arrived a little late and were attacked outside of the building where the bingo was being held. The assailant took the women’s purses and attempted to get away in the women’s car. The car headed toward a group of pedestrians at high speed in its getaway attempt.

Fortunately, the security guard rushed outside when he heard what was going on. He shot at the wheels of the vehicle, forcing it to stop before it reached the group of pedestrians. He arrested the attacker and sent him to jail. One of the women, however, injured her leg when the attacker struck it with the car as he was trying to escape.

The appellate court has affirmed a summary judgment dismissing a widow’s case against Stebbins Engineering and Manufacturing Company. She filed suit after her husband died while he was working at International Paper Company in Mansfield, Louisiana.

An employee died when, while attempting to repair a valve on the platform surrounding a white water tank/tile chest, he fell into the tank. Pulp debris around the opening cover may have been dislodged due to overflow before his fall. Thus, the widow brought suit against the manager of the Mansfield paper mill, International Paper, and Stebbins, which designs and constructs the tanks. Over 20 years ago, it manufactured the tank that the deceased fell into, and Stebbins also inspects tile chests at some of its locations, though not at the Mansfield mill.

Whether the widow had a case or not turned on the legal duties of Stebbins. The widow argued that inspections at other plants provided notice to Stebbins that some of the tile chests were over-pressurized and overflowing, which caused the dislodging of the access opening covers, thereby endangering International Paper employees working around the tanks. She argued this created an obligation for Stebbins to inform International Paper employees about the safety issue.

Throughout Louisiana there are many roads that do not have marked center lines. When an accident occurs on one of these roads, a careful investigation must be made to determine which side of the road the accident occurred on. Then, if a lawsuit is filed, the trier of fact can determine which driver was responsible for the accident. A recently decided case that was affirmed by the Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit serves as an example of how such fault determinations are made and how the law plays into these accidents.

In that case, a woman was on an unmarked road getting ready to turn left into a private driveway. From the other direction, another vehicle crossed the center of the road in order to pass cars parked along the side of the road. By doing so, the second driver failed to re-enter his lane before reaching the first vehicle. The second car slammed into the first, causing serious injury to the first driver and severe damage to her vehicle. An investigation of the crash, particularly of skid marks, showed the accident did indeed take place in the first driver’s lane and that the second driver was driving much faster than the posted speed limit. The first driver filed a lawsuit against the other driver and won compensation for her damages. To find the second driver at fault, the judge in the case examined existing statutes to determined the second driver broke the law by moving into the other lane to pass vehicles when the other lane was not clear for a reasonable distance and f or traveling at excessive speed.

As evidenced by this case, when one is injured in an accident, a lawsuit may be filed against another driver in an attempt to recover damages. To succeed on such a claim, the plaintiff must show the other driver was negligent and that negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. If a driver is speeding, crosses the center line, or is drunk, for example, the driver is likely to be found negligent. If injuries are sustained as a direct result of that negligence, then compensation may be obtained to cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Then, the plaintiff can focus on moving past the accident and getting life back to normal.

To a certain extent, employers are legally required to guard their employees against the risk of on-the-job injuries. But for an injured employee to prevail in a lawsuit against the employer, the employee must be able to prove that the employer owed him or her a duty to prevent the particular accident that occurred. The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal recently affirmed this rule in the recent case of Chaisson v. Drake.

Mary Elizabeth Chaisson was working as a private caregiver for Dr. Winbourne Macgruder Drake. She had been helping him get in and out of his wheelchair for three years when one day something went wrong.

Chaisson was attempting to transfer Drake from a lift chair to his wheelchair when he suddenly began to fall forward. When Chaisson grabbed him to prevent the fall, she pulled muscles in her neck and back.

Recently, an individual from the Parish of St. Tammany was injured as she was transported from a nursing home to another health-care facility. She fell from her wheelchair when the driver had to slam on his brakes. The wheelchair had neither a seatbelt, nor was the wheelchair strapped down in the van. The individual sued her nursing home based on the failure to adequately secure her for her journey. Questions regarding the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act arose that considered whether the nursing home was a healthcare provider and whether her injury constituted medical malpractice.

The Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act (“Act”) requires that individuals take their medical malpractice complaints against qualified health care providers to a medical review board before taking the claim to a court. The State of Louisiana employs this administrative process because the state is self-insured, and it covers some health-care providers. They want to be sure that a medical malpractice claim exists before it gets into the courtroom. The medical review board generally consists of two healthcare professionals and one attorney. Generally, the healthcare professionals are in the same field as the doctor accused of malpractice. For more information on the medical review panel, see http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/MedReview/index.htm.

If a claimant does not use the medical review panel and tries to take their claim directly to court, then it will be dismissed because it is premature. Dismissing for prematurity is a dilatory exception, which means that it only delays the progress of a lawsuit, but does not defeat the action. In medical malpractice suits, the defendant has the burden of proving that he is entitled to a medical review panel, which only applies to only malpractice, not other tort actions, and that he or she is a qualified medical provider.

Appeals courts are unique in two major respects: evidentiary requirements and standards of review. When cases are appealed, the evidentiary requirements are different at the appeals level than they were at the trial court level. For example, often the appeals court’s factual inquiry is limited to “the record,” or the facts as explained by the trial court. The appeals court cannot look beyond what is in the record or what is argued in front of them, even if they would like additional facts. Occasionally, the appeals court can look to evidence that is introduced by the parties, but many times the standard of review requires that the appeals court cannot look at evidence at all.

In addition, the standard of review depends on the type of legal question presented. The two major standards of review in Louisiana are manifest error and de novo review. In manifest error review, the appeals court simply determines whether the lower court’s outcome is probable, or lacks manifest error. They consider the facts in the record and determine if the outcome was probable given the facts. The trial court has a great deal of deference because they access the credibility of the witnesses and deal with complex evidentiary rules. The second type of review, de novo review, does not rely on the lower court. Instead, the appeals court can consider the evidence in the record as if it were a new trial. There is no need to consider what the lower court did with the information because the appeals court makes its own independent decisions. Often, however, the appeals court is still limited to the evidence in their record.

A recent case arising from the First City Court of New Orleans to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for the State of Louisiana outlines these concepts. In that case, an individual contracted with a building contractor to make improvements on his house. The individual argued that the contractor performed poorly, and therefore did not fulfill his half of the contract, even though the contractor had already been paid. The lower court granted an exception of prematurity, which, in this case, meant that the party brought the case too early because there was a stipulation in the contract that required mediation before the parties could bring the case to court. Under the exception of prematurity, the appeals court reviews the lower court under manifest error. However, when the parties argued their case at the court of appeals, neither party put the actual contract into evidence at the appeals hearing. Since appeals courts have strict evidentiary requirements, the court could not consider what the contract actually stated. Therefore, it struck down the exception of prematurity.

When a hazardous condition on a merchant’s property causes a slip-and-fall accident, the victim can file suit for his or her injuries. But in Louisiana, the merchant can only be held liable for those injuries if the merchant created the danger or had actual or constructive notice of it before the accident. This law saved Wal-Mart from liability in Gray v. Wal-Mart, a recent case from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On September 1, 2008, Hurricane Gustav made landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana as a Category 2 storm, causing considerable casualties and damages along its track. That day, Louisiana resident Jean Gray was shopping at a Wal-Mart in Pineville. As she was pushing her cart down an aisle, she slipped in a puddle of clear liquid and fell, injuring her right knee. In an internal incident report, a Wal-Mart supervisor identified a hole in the store’s roof as the source of the puddle, an assumption he made based on his knowledge of other leaks in the roof and the heavy rain pouring down outside.

Gray and her husband sued Wal-Mart for her injuries, claiming that she slipped in a puddle of rainwater that had leaked from a hole in the store’s roof. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart. The Grays appealed, and the case went to the Fifth Circuit.