Judgment In Lawsuit From Garage Sale Injury Lacked Necessary Decretal Language

2015_garage_sale_002-1024x683Depending on the outcome of a trial, when the jury renders its verdict, you might be excited or sad. No matter how you feel, you must review the trial court’s judgment to ensure it is sufficiently precise and definite to meet the requirements for a final judgment.  

Charmane Manchester was injured while attending a garage sale held on property owned by Michael and Heather Watson. She claimed a wood post supporting the carport fell and hit her. She filed a lawsuit against the Watsons and their homeowners’ insurer, ANPAC Louisiana. 

In her lawsuit, Manchester claimed the Watsons maintained an unreasonably dangerous condition on their property, had not adequately warned people of the condition, did not properly inspect the wood posts, and held a garage sale in an unsafe area. The lawsuit proceeded to a jury trial. At trial, the jury found the Watsons owned and had custody of the wooden post that fell on Manchester at the garage sale. However, the jury did not find sufficient evidence that the wooden post was defective and an unreasonable risk of harm when the accident occurred. 

After the jury returned its verdict, the trial court issued a judgment. The judgment stated that based on the testimony and other evidence presented, the jury had unanimously found no unreasonably dangerous condition existed and found in favor of the defense (the Watsons), with nothing awarded to the plaintiff (Manchester). Manchester appealed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the Watsons. 

An appellate court only has jurisdiction to hear a final judgment. For a judgment to be a final judgment, it must determine the merits of the at-issue controversy. See La. C.C.P. art. 1841. This requires that the judgment has appropriate language and is sufficiently precise and definite.  See La. C.C.P. art. 1918.  This requires the judgment to name the party the court ruled in favor of and specify the relief the court is granting or denying. Without this language, a judgment is defective and is not appealable as a final judgment. 

Here, although neither party raised the issue of whether the appellate court had jurisdiction to hear the appeal, the appellate court reviewed this on its own. The appellate court reviewed the language of the judgment. The judgment merely stated the jury found there was no unreasonably dangerous condition and found in favor of the defense (the Watsons). The judgment did not explicitly dismiss Manchester’s claims and did not include any other decretal language. Therefore, the judgment was defective, and Manchester could not appeal the judgment as a final judgment, so the appellate court dismissed the appeal. 

If you are involved in a lawsuit, when the jury renders its verdict, and the trial court issues a judgment, it is essential you and your attorney review the language of the judgment. Otherwise, if your judgment does not have the necessary decretal language, the judgment might not be a valid final judgment, and the appellate court will be unable to hear the appeal.

Additional Sources: Charmane Manchester v. ANPAC Louisiana Ins. Co., Mr. Michael Watson & Mrs. Heather Dawn van Watson

Article Written By Berniard Law Firm

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Decretal Language: Final Judgment Lacking Decretal Language: What Happens to Your Case?

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