Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

nuclear_waste_radioactive_trash-1024x529Exposure to naturally occurring radioactive materials generally increases due to human activity. Proving harm from these activities may be difficult, however. The following Jefferson Parish case demonstrates the need for substantiating your injury claim with evidence. It further shows the weight a court may place on expert witnesses.   

In this case, over 1,100 individuals, referred to as the “Dottie Adams” plaintiffs, filed a petition together stating they were either directly or indirectly harmed by exposure to radioactive material caused by Exxon Mobil Corporation, Mobil Exploration, and Producing North America, Inc. (“Exxon”), and Shell Oil Company, Shell Offshore, Inc., SWEPI LP, ConocoPhillips Company, and Alpha Technical Services, Inc. (“Shell”). The Dottie Adams plaintiffs all lived, or currently live, in Harvey or worked near the contaminated Grefer Tract, a 33-acre industrial tract in Harvey.  

After years of litigation, Exxon filed motions for summary judgment alleging that several of the Dottie Adams plaintiffs could not substantiate their claim that they or their property were exposed to radioactive material above naturally occurring background levels. In their motions, Exxon included an affidavit from its expert health physicist, who stated, in part, that it was more likely than not the plaintiffs’ properties were not impacted by the naturally occurring radioactive material from the operations occurring in the Grefer Tract. 

craftsmen_building_scaffold_19584-1024x679The evolving nature of employment now means the relationship between employer and employee can be indirect and through different contracting methods. In addition, many people employed by one company are, in fact, on the job doing work for another. A recent case in Louisiana highlights these distinctions and the risks posed to workers and their families when seeking compensation.

While working in 2013, Michael J. Louque Jr. was crushed to death by a piece of heavy machinery that rolled off the truck it was being loaded onto. Mr. Louque was employed by River Parish Maintenance (RPM) but was working at the Motiva Enterprises, LLC (“Motiva”) manufacturing complex. Upon his death, the family of Mr. Louque filed a lawsuit against Motiva and others, seeking compensation for his wrongful death. 

The contract that brought Mr. Louque to the Motiva manufacturing complex was actually between RPM and Shell Oil Products US (“Shell”). This point is crucial in understanding the state of the Louque’s litigation, as Louisiana law prohibits employees from directly suing their employers in a tort claim rather than pursuing worker’s compensation benefits. See Deshotel v. Guichard Operating Company, Inc.

bauer_elementary_asbestos_1-1024x768Although most people have heard of both state and federal courts, many do not know when a party in a lawsuit can move a case to a different court. This happened to Howard Zeringue, who first filed a lawsuit in Louisiana state court, but soon found himself in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana after the company he sued removed the case to federal court. This case helps answer the question; My lawsuit was removed to Federal Court. What does that Mean?

Zeringue sued Crane Company (“Crane”) and twenty others for the injuries they allegedly suffered from asbestos exposure.  Zeringue claimed he was exposed to asbestos while working for the United States Navy and at two other jobs. Additionally, Zeringue claimed Crane designed and supplied products with asbestos to the sites where he worked and was exposed to asbestos. 

Although Zeringue initially filed the case in state court, Crane removed the case to federal court under the federal officer removal statute. See 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). Crane argued any product Crane allegedly manufactured and provided to the Navy would be subject to the Navy’s discretion on whether to use asbestos and whether to include a warning on the product. Zeringue filed a motion to remand the case back to state court. The district court ruled in his favor, holding Crane had not shown the government had exercised its discretion concerning the design and warning problems at issue.  Crane appealed the district court’s ruling that sent the case back to state court. 

asbestos_garage-1024x597Insurance policies are often lengthy and very complicated. Therefore, understanding who may be liable when an injury occurs is critical, as failure to do so may lead to complex and expensive court proceedings. The following Iberville Parish case demonstrates the problems that arise when multiple insurance companies and policies are involved in one lawsuit and when evidence is not properly admitted.  

After working as an electrician in several shipyards and plants in south Louisiana for most of his life, Sidney J. Mabile, Sr. filed a lawsuit against The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) and Westgate and its predecessor, Industrial Electrical Constructors, Inc. (IEC) for asbestos-related injuries. Following a jury trial, Sidney’s claims against Westgate and IEC were dismissed, although Dow was found to be one of three defendants liable for his damages. Dow and Sidney ultimately settled. 

While the case with Sidney was pending, Dow filed a cross-claim against Westgate and IEC (collectively Westgate). Dow argued that Westgate was under an Agreement for Services that mandated Westgate to indemnify Dow for claims brought by a Westgate employee against Dow for any injuries on Dow’s premises. In other words, Dow argued that Westgate owed Dow an indemnity for Sidney’s original claim. 

boat_rowing_boat_blue-1024x746Hydraulic steering is part of modern-day recreational vessels. When a boat’s hydraulic steering fails, what party bears liability? The owner, driver, or manufacturer? In the following case, the Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal was asked to determine liability and proper damages when a boat’s hydraulic steering system failed.

On May 7, 2005, a boat owned by Glen Vamvoras and operated by his son Daniel Vamvoras was traveling in Lake Charles when its steering failed. As a result, the boat spun wildly, throwing its passenger overboard. The passenger, Derek Hebert, was then struck by the boat’s propeller and tragically died. 

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (“Wildlife & Fisheries”) investigated the accident. It determined that the pre-owned boat purchased by defendant Glen Vamvoras lost its steering due to a hydraulic fluid leak on the boat’s steering system’s hydraulic lines at the hose/nut of the coupling assembly. Teleflex was the manufacturer and supplier of the boat’s hydraulic steering system, but the original Teleflex hoses of this vessel had been replaced by persons unknown with a non-Teleflex hydraulic hose. 

police_baltimore_police_officer-1024x648Despite stringent rules and regulations designed to keep unlicensed drivers off the road, minors often find their way behind the wheel. Police in Gonzales, Louisiana, were forced to reckon with the seriousness of such a driver when a high-speed police chase on Interstate 10 turned deadly in May of 2004. The outcome of this chase became the subject of a lawsuit left unsettled until 2017—a case which pondered: to what standard should police be held when engaged in an active car chase?

Just before eight o’clock in the evening, a Gonzales city police officer noticed an Oldsmobile without its headlights activated. The car, failing to stop or slow down, was pursued onto Interstate 10 by Louisiana State Police. The chase continued for nearly twenty minutes despite attempts to stop the vehicle with a spike strip. Then, the Oldsmobile’s fourteen-year-old driver lost control of the car and spun into a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction, driven by the Bristols. The Oldsmobile driver died on impact, while all seven passengers in the other car were severely injured, prompting a lawsuit against the Louisiana State Police. At trial, a jury found no liability for the Bristols’ injuries on the part of the department, and an appeal followed.

The Louisiana Highway Regulatory Act is excepted by La R.S. 32:24—which provides, under certain circumstances, statutory immunity to drivers of emergency vehicles. As such, police officers are allowed to exceed maximum speed limits and disregard other road rules so long as they maintain regard for the safety of others and have their audible or visual signals activated. However, this exception is not absolute: juries are allowed to determine, based on the circumstances and after being instructed on the law, whether a standard of ordinary negligence or a heightened reckless disregard standard should gauge the standard of care for an emergency vehicle driver. Lenard v. Dilley, 784 So.2d 706 (La. Ct. App. 2001).

black-train-on-rail-and-showing-smoke-72594-1024x727Everyone has experienced or knows about a situation in which a governmental body was liable for damages or injuries caused. When suing a city in Louisiana, there must be some evidentiary support for the elements required under La. R.S. 9:2800. Otherwise, cities would be getting sued for every crack in the sidewalk that someone tripped over. While the situation in this case was more serious than a crack in the sidewalk, there are limits, all the same, to ensure that the city is not liable for another’s wrongdoing. The question in this case is who is responsible for the failure to maintain proper signage at railroad tracks? And if the signage is not enough who is held responsible?

In this case, TG was working as an engineer on a Union Pacific train that was traveling north on a path that would cross Cedar Street in Grosse Tete, Louisiana. DA was driving a road grader traveling west of Cedar Street when he attempted to cross the train tracks. Unfortunately, DA was not able to drive across the train tracks and was subsequently struck by the train, causing his death. TG was allegedly injured and filed suit for damages against the Department of Transportation and Development (“DOTD”), Mr. DA and the Union Pacific Railroad Company, alleging the defendants were at fault for the injuries sustained when the train struck the road grader. DOTD claimed that it was not at fault, but instead that the Village of Grosse Tete was at fault for a number of reasons, including failure to maintain the roadway surface and warning devices.

As a result of DOTD’s claims, Goodmond filed an amended petition adding the Village of Grosse Tete as a defendant, for which it denied liability. The Village of Grosse Tete claimed that the plaintiff lacked sufficient support to establish the required elements to find it liable for the injuries Goodmond sustained. 

blue-and-silver-stetoscope-40568-1024x683The biggest obstacle to any plaintiff in a medical malpractice case is prescription, but what is that? In the state of Louisiana, prescription is a peremptory exception that can be claimed by defendants. Prescription can be thought of as a privilege for medical professionals which exempts them from malpractice cases so long as they are working within the scope of their employment. It is typically difficult to overcome a prescription exception unless a plaintiff has solid proof of negligence. The following case is no exception. 

Caddo Parrish resident Karla Breland’s tragic story began on June 19, 2014. Her husband, Ray Breland, had a medical condition that caused his body’s ammonia levels to rise, and thus he was prescribed Lactulose. Mr. Breland developed liver complications and a recurring hernia, for which surgery was performed by Dr. Zabari. Mr. Breland was discharged eight days later, on June 27th, only to return one month later for severe abdominal pain.

 The Brelands went to the emergency room. Mrs. Breland informed several staff members throughout their visit of Mr. Breland’s need for Lactulose, yet he was only given medication for nausea and pain. The next day, Dr. Zibari  fixed the hernia without surgery and said Mr. Breland should be discharged the following day. Again, Mrs. Breland informed the nurse on duty and one of the named defendants, Nurse Vierra, that Mr. Breland needed Lactulose, but he still did not receive it. Another doctor, Dr. Jones, another named defendant, checked on Mr. Breland and advised the nurse to administer Lactulose, but when Mrs. Breland reminded Nurse Vierra of this, the nurse said that she did not have a written order for the Lactulose. The next on-duty nurse, Nurse Hayes, was informed of the same situation but again told Mrs. Breland that there was no written order for it. 

68-Email-05-22-19-picture-1024x683Often workers’ compensation claims focus on the nature of the injury that one argues makes them eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. However, in situations where there is more ambiguity surrounding one’s employment status, there can be an additional difficulty in determining if one’s employment classification makes one eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

Filiberto Serna, Jr. (“Decedent”) died in a construction accident in September 2013 while attempting to move multiple trailers located at a United States Navy facility in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. When the accident occurred, the Decedent was being paid by Filser Construction, a subcontractor of Aries Building Services, Inc. The Decedent’s wife and minor child brought a workers’ compensation case against Aries, but the Office of Workers’ Compensation (“OWC”) found in favor of Aries. Specifically, the OWC found that there was insufficient proof of an employee-employer relationship with Filser such that Aries was the Decedent’s employer. OWC also found that the Decedent was a partner of Filser. The wife and child appealed.

On appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, the first issue was whether the Decedent was a business partner of Filser or an employee under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act. In the context of workers’ compensation, an injured worker is considered a business partner when he or she shares in the profit or loss of the partnership. However, a partner can still be considered an employee of a partnership to which he belongs.

black-and-white-blood-pressure-blood-pressure-monitor-208556-1024x768When a loved one dies or suffers severe injuries from negligent medical care, the first thing a family wants is justice for that mistreatment. When a mother knows her son’s medical history is not conducive to a certain treatment, she may believe that malpractice is apparent. These lawsuits have a number of procedures meant to protect the profession, however. A lawsuit can be dismissed by summary judgment when there is no genuine issue as to a material fact. La. C.C.P. art. 966(B)(2). When the defendant requests summary judgment, she may win the summary judgment if the adverse party’s claim lacks factual support for the elements essential to the claim.

Breton Trotter, a 21-year-old, was transported to Baton Rouge General Medical Center (“BRGMC”) emergency room on November 5, 2011. On November 7, 2011, Dr. Zuckerman found that Mr. Trotter had no pulse and expired. In October 2012, Breton Trotter’s mother, Terrain Trotter, filed a medical malpractice claim with the Louisiana Patient’s Compensation Fund Oversight Board and requested a review by a medical review panel. On April 30, 2014, the panel issued an unanimous opinion that no medical malpractice exists. On August 28, 2014, Ms. Trotter filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in the 19th Judicial District Court against Dr. Zuckerman. After he timely filed an answer, Dr. Zuckerman filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that Ms. Trotter had failed to obtain a medical expert to support her claims. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Dr. Zuckerman. Ms. Trotter appealed to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal (“the Court“) arguing that her familiarity with her son’s medical requirements made her fully capable of meeting the burden of proof.

All plaintiffs must establish three elements to file a medical malpractice lawsuit: (1) the standard of care applicable to the doctor; (2) a violation by the doctor of that standard of care; and (3) a causal connection between the doctor’s alleged negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries. La. R.S. 9:2794(A). Generally, expert testimony is required to establish the applicable standard of care and whether the standard was breached, unless the negligence is so obvious that an average person can infer a breach without the guidance of an expert. Samara v. Rau, 977 So.2d 880 (La. 2008)

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