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back pain lawsuitAn employee suffering an injury at work can be concerning for both the employee and employer. This concern can be increased when the injury sustained at work is an aggravation of a previous injury. However, as one Louisiana individual discovered, providing solid evidence backing your workers’ compensation claim can be critical to the lawsuit.

Mrs. Alexander worked as an administrative assistant at Stupp Bros in Baton Rouge. On February 12th, 2015, Mrs. Alexander was asked to order toner for the printer. Mrs. Alexander had to obtain the serial number from the back of the printer to collect toner and kneel down to acquire the serial number. While kneeling down and pulling the printer off the wall, Mrs. Alexander felt a tear on her back. Mrs. Alexander fell over and was transported Mrs. Alexander to Prime Medical with some assistance.

While at Prime Medical, Mrs. Alexander was diagnosed with a lower back strain, given over-the-counter medications, and was given a release to return to work. Mrs. Alexander complained about pain and said she had undergone two previous back surgeries while visiting Prime Medical. Four days after the accident, Mrs. Alexander went to the emergency room at Lane Regional Medical Center. An M.R.I. performed on Mrs. Alexander revealed several issues involving a disc in her back.

14-1024x682Often times during a lawsuit, cases involve a classic “battle of experts,” where each side presents an expert with an opinion which differs from their respective opponent’s side. The recent Jefferson Davis Parish case involved this exact situation.

Hayes Fund for the First United Methodist Church of Welsh, L.L.C. and other groups brought a lawsuit against a group of defendants including Kerr-McGee Rocky Mountain, LLC, alleging monetary losses which resulted from defendants’ mismanagement of two oil and gas wells in which the plaintiffs’ had royalty interests. Nevertheless, when it reached the Louisiana Supreme Court, it was mainly about the standards of appellate review.

The wells in question were both located in Jefferson Davis Parish. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants, when drilling the wells, did not follow the customary and industry-wide accepted protocols. For example, one of the well’s drill pipe was stuck, and later abandoned. Because of the remaining drill pipe, the hole could not properly be cemented, resulting in extraneous water to enter the reservoir and damage it, and causing loss of production and royalties for the plaintiffs. In another of the wells, the use of triple permanent packer caused the well to be “sanded up,” and resulted in the loss of lower zones. Overall, the alleged royalty loss of plaintiffs from both wells was $13.4 million.

class-classroom-conference-716276-1024x683Opinions vary on the principles of trickle-down economics, but on December 15, 2015 the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion which affirmed a lower court summary judgement decision for Northwestern State University to take down economics, along with one of its tenured professors.

In 1994, Robert C. Jones III (“Mr. Jones”) was hired as an economics instructor at Northwestern State University (“NSU”) and later gained tenure as an associate professor. Neither his education nor his instruction could have prepared him for the state enacted public university budget cuts that cost Mr. Jones his job as a result of the Great Recession of 2008. On July 22, 2010, the administrative representatives for NSU sent Mr. Jones a letter to notify him of the end of the economics concentration and his tenure. Following the notice, Mr. Jones presented a seven-page document to a committee of NSU faculty members outlining his arguments against the notice to end his tenure. The committee subsequently rejected Mr. Jones arguments unanimously. A year later, Mr. Jones filed a lawsuit seeking reinstatement and damages against NSU and argued that the university denied his procedural and substantive due process rights. The university raised a defense of sovereign immunity, while the administrative official claimed qualified immunity. The United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana granted these immunities along with NSU’s motion for summary judgment. Mr. Jones appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit, which ultimately affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Procedurally, due process includes adequate notice as well as the opportunity to be heard. Due process becomes less clear to define, so courts often rely on case law, which is comparable to the present situation. 

apartment-architectural-design-architecture-1693946-1024x736Lease agreements are important documents that specify the rights and obligations of both lessor and lessee. Specifically, termination of leases must follow specified procedures and the tenant must be given adequate notice before leases can be terminated. That being said, does a letter from the lessor to the lessee constitute proper notice for termination of a lease? The Fourth District Court of Appeals of Louisiana recently held that a tenant was not given proper notice for termination of his lease and therefore, the termination was not valid.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Kenneth Lobell, plaintiff, suffered extensive damage to property that he leased from Cathy Rosenberg and 2025 Canal St., L.L.C. On December 28, 2007, Rosenberg sent a letter to Lobell stating that he had defaulted on certain lease payments for a three-story building located on 2025 Canal Street. Rosenberg subsequently sent letters on January 31, 2007 and February 12, 2008 regarding these defaulted payments. The letters also stated her desire to terminate the lease. After a bench trial, the trial court judge held that there was a proper termination of the lease and Mr. Lobell owed certain costs and back payments to Rosenberg and 2025 Canal St., L.L.C.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals of Louisiana disagreed with the trial court and held that the lease was not properly terminated. Because leases are contracts between lessor and lessee, they afford certain rights and obligations to each party. See La. C.C. 2668. Lessees must pay rents for the property according to the terms of the lease agreement, among other obligations. See La. C.C. 2683. When a lessee does not pay rent, a lessor has two options: 1) obtain a money judgment based on the amount owed or 2) cancel the lease. See Richard v. Broussard 495 So.2d 1291, 1293 (La. 1986). To terminate a lease, the lessor must follow specific eviction procedures. These procedures include giving a five-day notice to vacate, followed by judicial procedures to effectuate an eviction. See La. C.C.P. art. 4701; see also La. C.C.P. 4731; see also La. C.C.P. 4733.

stop-san-francisco-1496611-1024x683When it comes to road safety, you can only rely on yourself. Know the rules of the road and always take precautions. In a recent case, a car accident dispute was brought to court to determine the liability of the parties. The case explains the responsibilities of motorists in Louisiana and why you should only rely on yourself for proper road safety and not assume that everyone else will take adequate precautions. The plaintiffs in a recent case learned this lesson the hard way.

On January 23, 2013, Plaintiffs Joseph Solomon and Betty were stopped at a stop sign at the intersection of North 8th Street and Louisville Avenue as they traveled southbound on North 8th Street. Sarah Tugwell was heading westbound on Louisville Avenue, a four-lane east-west thoroughfare. North 8th Street was traffic controlled through a stop sign. However, Louisville Avenue had no traffic control, no lights and no stop sign. This means drivers on Louisville Avenue have right of the way to travel, and those on North 8th Street must yield accordingly. So, Tugwell had right of the way, and Solomon and Blount had the stop sign.

According to the Plaintiffs, there was an unrelated accident on Louisville that slowed down traffic, and to Plaintiffs’ credit, an officer reported having his lights on further down Louisville to indicate officers were present handling an accident.  As a result of the accident, traffic was backed up, and Plaintiffs could not see the inside westbound lane while they were stopped at the stop sign. However, an unknown driver signaled for Plaintiffs to go. Relying on the kind and common gesture, Blount drove into the intersection. Thereafter, the Plaintiffs said Tugwell pulled out from the outside lane towards the inside lane, driving into the intersection. A collision ensued. However, Tugwell had some slightly different details.

scalpel-1316221-1024x768Professionals in various fields whose work greatly impacts the lives of others may find themselves accused of malpractice. Especially in medicine where a seemingly simple mistake can end one’s life, the lawsuits that stem from malpractice can bring large awards to plaintiffs. This is where malpractice insurance comes in, to make sure these amounts are paid without completely destroying the livelihood of that professional. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal discussed malpractice insurance issues in a recent ruling.

Dr. Eileen Lunch-Ballard was an employee of Correct Care, Inc. and working in a hospital in 2008 when her treatment of a patient left that person with an amputated leg and later dead. As a result, she was sued for medical malpractice. The Louisiana Medical Mutual Insurance Company (LAMMICO) provided Correct Care with medical malpractice coverage. In 2009, Dr. Lynch-Ballard had her medical license suspended. The attorney appointed by LAMMICO urged that the lawsuit against her and her employer be settled. Despite her objections and apparently without her knowledge, LAMMICO settled the medical malpractice lawsuit in December 2009 for a total of $90,000.

When she discovered this, Dr. Lynch-Ballard demanded that her name is removed from the settlement documents. Although it was briefly removed, the documents were ultimately not changed. Dr. Lynch-Ballard sued LAMMICO as well as its appointed attorney for the settlement without her consent and the refusal to remove her name from the documents. She claimed tort damages of a damaged reputation as well as mental anguish. She also claimed LAMMICO had breached the contract by failing to advise her to seek outside counsel. In response, LAMMICO filed a motion to dismiss her tort claims on the basis that since she was no longer working for Correct Care, they were not required to obtain her consent to settle. They also argued that her contractual claim should be considered prescribed and no longer valid. The Trial Court eventually ruled in favor of LAMMICO, dismissing the claims. Dr. Lunch-Ballard appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

dumbbell-1306867-1024x683When a products-related injury occurs, multiple parties may be at fault. In litigating personal injury claims, among the most important legal questions, are whom may the plaintiff recover from, if anyone, and under what theory of liability. The following case provides a good discussion of some typical theories of liability involved in products-related injury cases.

In 2013, Russell Maricle was involved in a serious car accident that resulted in him needing to use a wheelchair. Mr. Maricle’s bad fortune continued after the accident one day as he rolled up a wheelchair ramp. The fabric on the back of his wheelchair ripped causing Mr. Maricle to fall out of his chair and re-injure his neck. Mr. Maricle rented his wheelchair from Axis Medical and Fitness Equipment, L.L.C. (Axis) in Alexandria, Louisiana. The wheelchair was manufactured by Dalton Medical Corporation and Dalton Instrument Corporation (Dalton).

Mr. Maricle filed a lawsuit against Dalton and Axis, alleging that the wheelchair produced by Dalton was defective and that Axis was negligent in failing to inspect it before renting it to him. These are two separate legal theories. Mr. Maricle’s claim against Dalton is a products liability claim. The Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA) sets out the exclusive products liability theories against manufacturers caused by their products. La. R.S. 9:2800.52. Under the LPLA, a manufacturer of a product is liable for damages foreseeably caused by a defect in the product which renders it unreasonably dangerous. The damage suffered by the claimant must arise from “reasonably anticipated use” of the product by the claimant or someone else. A product can be considered unreasonably dangerous for purposes of liability in four ways: (1) construction or composition; (2) design; (3) inadequate warning; or (4) nonconformity to an express warrantee.

construction-site-1229346-1024x680If your contractor tells you a job will take a day, you might expect it to actually take a week. But, do you have to pay your contractor for time they are unable to work? Depending on the contract agreement you signed you may be liable for the costs the contractor has even when work is not going according to plan. This may be particularly true if you fail to uphold some part of the bargain. Whenever you enter a contract or feel that a contract may have been breached, it is important that you fully understand your contract. A case out of Baton Rouge in 2001 gives some insight into the necessary proof when trying to recover for contract losses.

In March of 2001, the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, entered into a contract with F.G. Sullivan, Jr. to improve Tiger Bend Road. The nearly $4,000,000 contract involved the expansion of the road, as well as the installation of a storm drainage system. Baton Rouge had been acquiring the rights to utilities on the road that would be in the way of the project. Both parties had agreed that the utility lines would be removed prior to Sullivan commencing work. The city informed the contractor that the utilities would be removed by April 1, 2001, and that work was to commence the following day.

Work began on the drainage system on April 2, but a snag was quickly hit. As construction on the drainage system began the company realized that the utility lines had not been moved. The city refused Sullivan for the time when his idle equipment was unable to work. Sullivan filed a lawsuit against the city seeking recovery for the time his equipment was idle, along with additional overhead expenses resulting from the utilities delays. At a bench trial, which is a trial with only a judge and no jury, just under a $1,000,000 was awarded in damages.

LSUEmployment discrimination can be damaging for both parties involved. It generally involves employee mistreatment, or a perception of such, that causes harm to the plaintiff. The employee must show that the employer treated him or her differently because of a federally protected reason, such as age, race, religion, or disability. Conversely, if the “at will” employee cannot prove he or she was fired for one of these reasons, there is no cause of action. Employment discrimination can be pursued in state court or federal court. However, when one court dismisses the action, a plaintiff cannot bring the same claim to another court. This idea is known as res judicata or claim preclusion, meaning “a matter already judged.” Having a good lawyer who knows the local and federal rules of civil procedure could save a plaintiff the time and money that comes with having their claims barred.

Recently, a professor at Louisiana State University (“LSU”) claimed the school discriminated against him for not obtaining sufficient grant money. The professor, Dr. Madhwa Raj, further alleged that the school administration harassed him and pressured him to retire. Dr. Raj claimed LSU even closed his laboratory in an effort to get him to retire. The harassment exacerbated his diabetes and led to him suffering neuropathy and chest pains. He also tore his rotator cuff, which required him to take an extended sick leave. Dr. Raj sued LSU, its Board of Supervisors (“LSU Board”), and the LSU Health and Sciences Center in New Orleans (“LSU Health”).

The professor’s complaints were dismissed in federal district court. Then, he filed in state trial court but added a Family Medical Leave Act claim. However, LSU used Res Judicata as a defense because the professor’s state court claims arose from the same operative facts as his federal court claims.

money-man-3-1190250When an employee is injured on the job, he or she may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, if an employer can show that the employee intentionally lied to receive extra reimbursement for a workers’ compensation claim, the employer will not have to pay any benefits that it would otherwise owe to that employee. A recent case out of Hammond, Louisiana, discusses the standard used in determining whether an employee intentionally committed fraud when filing for mileage reimbursements.

In September 2011, an employee of Sanderson Farms (SF) was injured during a work-related accident. SF paid the employee indemnity benefits following the accident. But in December 2011, it terminated those benefits before the employee was scheduled to return to work. After returning to work, the employee continued to work for Sanderson Farms for another month. Then, in May 2012, the employee filed a claim against Sanderson Farms seeking to recover workers’ compensation benefits for the injury he sustained while on the job. Sanderson Farms denied the employee had a present work-related disability and maintained that the employee was not entitled to further indemnity benefits or medical treatment. Sanderson Farms also raised the affirmative defense of fraud, claiming the employee forfeited his right to all benefits when he submitted mileage reimbursement in excess of the actual distance he traveled in visiting various healthcare providers.

The Office of Worker’s Compensation held a three-day trial focusing on SFs’ fraud defense. In support of the fraud allegation, Sanderson Farms sought to prove that the employee lied about the amount of miles he traveled to and from the 15 doctors’ appointments he attended from September 2011 to November 2011. It is unlawful for an employee to willfully make a false statement or representation for the purpose of obtaining any worker’s compensation benefits. An employee violating this law forfeits any right to workers’ compensation benefits. The forfeiture statute must be strictly construed because forfeiture of benefits is a harsh remedy. See Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center v. Mire, 142 So.3d 52 (La. Ct. App. 2014). As such, if an employer fails to prove even one element of the forfeiture statute, it will not be able to avoid liability in a workers’ compensation claim. Here, in order for SF to prove its fraud allegation it had to demonstrate that the employee willfully lied about where he was living and the distance he traveled to and from his medical appointments in an attempt to receive more money for mileage reimbursement than he was due.

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