Don’t Hesitate: Lawsuit Dismissed After Six Years For Failure to Prove Defendant Jointly Liable

clipboard-close-up-composition-893894-1024x683Navigating a lawsuit is a difficult task. Not only do you have to prove the merits of the case, but you also have to navigate the judicial system’s complex procedural requirements. Even if your case seems likely to succeed on the merits, failure to comply with procedural requirements can leave you without recourse. 

On March 22, 2001, the Meladines’ boat struck an unknown object submerged at Lake Hermitage while they were fishing in the early morning. In 2002, the Meladines sued six companies in a lawsuit for personal injuries. In the lawsuit, the Meladines alleged that the companies were the owners and/or operators of oil and gas platforms and pipelines located in the Lake Hermitage area. The Meladines alleged that their boat collided with what seemed to be an unmarked, old gas pipeline. They alleged that the defendants had failed to adequately mark or maintain the pipeline or warn of its potential harm. All six of the defendants denied having any ownership interest or control of the object that struck the plaintiffs’ boat.

Over the next three years, the plaintiffs dismissed the claims they had brought against all the defendants except Stone Energy and Chevron USA. In 2007, the plaintiffs added Jefferson Lake and Plaquemines Parish Government (“PPG”) as defendants. A year later, Jefferson Lake filed an exception of prescription because it had not been renamed as a defendant until over six years since the accident. Jefferson Lake also argued that prescription was inappropriate because there was no solidary liability between Jefferson Lake and any original defendants. The case then proceeded to trial. 

Jefferson Lake filed for summary judgment on April 2, 2015. This defendant argued that the plaintiffs were unable to show either that Jefferson Lake had ownership/control of the pipeline or that it was solidary liable with any original defendant. On May 1, Jefferson Lake became the only remaining defendant because the plaintiffs settled with PPG. The trial court then granted the summary judgment motion in favor of Jefferson Lake. The plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s grant of Jefferson Lake’s summary judgment motion. Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact. La. C.C.P. art. 966.

The appellate court found that the 2007 pleading was prohibited automatically because the it was filed long after the legal period of one year following the date of the incident. La. C.C. art. 3492. The only way the lawsuit could continue if it could be shown that Jefferson Lake was solidarily liable with one of the original defendants. Solidary liability exists when two people/organizations can both be held liable for the same incident. La. C.C. 2324. Here, the court found no evidence that a solidary obligation existed between Jefferson Lake and Gulf Oil in the agreement between Jefferson Lake and Gulf Oil that the plaintiffs provided. This agreement only gave Jefferson Lake the authority to drill for sulphur and did not indicate any joint ventures or mutual obligations. Furthermore, the provided testimony from a captain was too speculative to support the plaintiffs’ argument. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment that dismissed the Meladines’ claims against Jefferson Lake. 

Because of the complex procedural requirements you must navigate in order to succeed in your lawsuit, it is essential that you confer with a good attorney who can ensure your compliance with the multitude of legal requirements. 

Additional Sources: Meladine v. Stone Energy

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Megan Richardson 

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