Articles Posted in Strict Liability

A class action suit occurs when a group of people bring a case together as representatives of an entire class of people who are similarly situated. In order to bring a class action in Louisiana, a judge must certify the class. This means that the class of plaintiffs meets the requirements for their class action to go forward. One of the requirements a class must meet to be certified is that it must have what is known as numerosity. In Louisiana numerosity is defined as meaning that the class is too large for the individual plaintiffs to pursue their claims separately or it is too large for the individual plaintiffs to be joined to the case in a practical manner. The following case illustrates what happens when questions about numerosity arise in a class action.

On May 15, 2009 a vacuum truck owned and operated by Environmental Services, Inc. was driving on Louisiana Highway 27 between Singer and DeQuincy when a valve broke and 300-500 gallons of motor oil leaked out onto the highway. The leak was discovered when the truck arrived in DeQuincy, and the impacted portion of the highway was closed within approximately 15 minutes of the truck’s arrival.

The plaintiffs seeking to certify this class action brought suit alleging that they suffered physical injury due to inhaling the fumes from the spilled motor oil and also alleged that they suffered damage to their vehicles and livestock in their vehicles from driving over the spilled oil. The plaintiffs sought to certify a class that included everyone who drove over the spilled oil before it was cleaned up.

When treatment provided by a health care professional falls below the accepted standard of practice in the medical community and causes injury or death to a patient, it is said that medical negligence or medical malpractice has occurred. To establish a claim for medical malpractice, a plaintiff must prove: (1) the standard of care applicable to the defendant; (2) that the defendant breached that standard of care; and (3) that there was a causal connection between the breach and the resulting injury. These three elements must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, which is the requirement that more than fifty percent of the evidence be in the plaintiff’s favor.

Nearly a month after surgery, it was discovered that John Roberts had been suffering from a staph infection after having a vasectomy performed by, urologist, Dr. Don Marx. On November 17, 2010, Mr. Roberts filed a lawsuit against Dr. Marx seeking damages for allegedly failing to provide appropriate medical care and treatment and diagnosis of the surgery’s complications. In addition to those allegations, Mr. Roberts’ complains that Dr. Marx failed to inform him that just days before performing Mr. Roberts’ vasectomy procedure, the doctor himself had undergone eye surgery after losing part of his vision in his right eye.

After the filing of the initial complaint, Dr. Marx moved for judgement as a matter of law and argued that Mr. Roberts would be unable to adequately prove his case at trial due to the lack of expert testimony to establish a breach of duty by the Dr. Marx.  Accordingly, the trial court agreed with Dr. Marx determined that no genuine issue of material fact existed and granted summary judgment against Mr. Roberts.

A degree of legal closure has settled following a failed New Orleans housing project and years of litigation.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling in a dispute between the developer, Levy Gardens Partners, and its title insurance company, Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ordered Commonwealth to pay Levy Gardens $605,000 under their title insurance policy with Commonwealth. Levy Gardens sought a greater recovery and filed an appeal. Commonwealth sought to have the judgment nullified, claiming Levy Gardens was not entitled to any money under the title insurance policy.

Commonwealth agreed to cover a loss in value of the property’s title. The insurance policy contained a zoning endorsement which committed Commonwealth to insure against the risk that the land was misclassified as a multi-family housing zone. An insurance endorsement is an amendment to a policy that either adds or limits coverage. This endorsement expanded coverage to account for zoning errors. The policy in this case also required Levy Gardens to comply with any conditions, restrictions, or requirements in the zoning ordinances. The policy limit was more than $18 million.

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.