Anyone who has been to a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans knows that the festivities are often marked by high-speed projectiles aimed at the crowds. Indeed, the chance to catch coveted “throws” is the very thing that draws many parade goers. The risk of being hit by beads or other throws is so well-known and accepted that there is even a state “Mardi Gras immunity statute” which grants immunity to Mardi Gras krewes who throw the beloved treasures at parades. La. R.S. 9:2796 grants immunity to krewes which sponsor parades for any loss or damaged caused by a krewe member, unless such loss or damage was caused by deliberate acts or gross negligence. Though the parades are a cornerstone of New Orleanian culture, we get to enjoy them only at our own risk, with the knowledge that we could be injured by the very beads and throws that draw us to attend. Recently, a long-time Endymion Ball attendee learned this lesson the hard way.
On the Saturday before Mardi Gras 2012, Rose Ann Citron was hit in the head by a bag of beads while the Krewe of Endymion was making its way through the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on its way to the “Extravaganza;” an invitation-only continuation of celebrations held after the parade. Ms. Citron was not an Extravaganza novice. Her husband, Wayne Cintron was a long-time Endymion Krewe member and Mrs. Citron had attended the majority of Extravaganzas over the past thirty years. Nonetheless, the Citrons filed a lawsuit against the Endymion Krewe seeking damages for injuries allegedly sustained in the bead-throwing.
The Edymion Krewe answered, asserting that it benefitted from Louisiana’s Mardi Gras immunity statute. After discovery (the process of gathering evidence for the case), the Edymion Krewe filed a motion for summary judgment based on the immunity statute. It argued that regardless of what acts occurred that night, no reasonable mind could characterize those acts as gross negligence so as to defeat its immunity.
A motion for summary judgment seeks a final decision from the trial court, dismissing the lawsuit before trial. Summary judgment is only appropriate where there the initial discovery shows that there is no genuine issue of fact such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See La. C.C.P. art. 966. In other words, if the facts of the case beyond dispute, there is no need to argue them in a lengthy trial. If the party opposing the motion for summary judgment cannot prove there is a disagreement over a material (i.e. important) fact, the court will grant the motion in favor of the moving party. Louisiana courts favor summary judgment because it is efficient. It saves time and resources.
The Trial Court held that the Endymion Krewe was immune from liability for injuries caused by beads thrown at its parade and that the gross negligence exception did not apply. The Trial Court laid out several factors for determining whether a Mardi Gras krewe is grossly negligent in the manner in which they throw items from their floats: (i) the weight of the object; (ii) the distance it is thrown; and (iii) how it was thrown. The Trial Court found that the Citrons failed to put forward evidence towards these factors, and held that the Citrons failed to prove that the gross negligence exception should overcome the Endymion Krewe’s immunity.
The Court of Appeal affirmed that ruling, explaining that the Mardi Gras statute was an affirmative defense to liability. Though the party asserting an affirmative defense generally bears the burden of proving that the particular defense applies, the Citrons did not challenge the applicability of immunity statute. Rather, they argued that the gross negligence exception applied here. This shifted the burden of proof, requiring the Citrons to put forward evidence on the applicability of the gross negligence exception. The Citrons failed in meeting this burden of proof.
On appeal, the Citrons unsuccessfully attempted to argue that the Endymion Krewe should be held vicariously liable for the actions of its members because Mrs. Citron could not identify the exact krewe member who hit her with the bag of beads. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, explaining that no legal authority exists to impose such liability on the krewes themselves. The Citrons also argued that they had provided evidence regarding the weight of the beads and how far they were thrown. The Court of Appeal also rejected this argument, finding that there was no evidentiary basis for the Citrons’ claims about the weight of the beads and distance thrown.
As this case shows, if you get hit by a parade throw and want to file a claim for your injuries, make sure you have an excellent lawyer. Otherwise, your claims will likely be thrown out like a Zulu coconut before you even make it to trial.
Additional Sources: ROSE ANN CITRON, WIFE OF/AND WAYNE CITRON VERSUS GENTILLY CARNIVAL CLUB, INC.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer: Chelsea Crews
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