rifle-scope-1-1576601-1-1024x683What do injured parties do when products are defective and unreasonably damaged? In Louisiana, injured parties may file lawsuits against a manufacturer for damages caused by his products. The following case out of the Western District of Louisiana describes the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”).

In mid-2011, Toby Arant purchased two 1” ratchet straps at a Wal-Mart store, manufactured by Tahsin Industrial, Corp., USA (“Tahsin”). On September 9, 2012, Mr. Arant used the straps to secure a tree for hunting. Mr. Arant was seriously injured after falling 20 feet to the ground because the tree straps failed when he climbed onto the tree stand.

Mr. Arant filed a lawsuit in Louisiana state court against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”) and Tahsin under the LPLA, alleging that the straps were defective and unreasonably dangerous. More specifically, he claimed that the straps were defective in construction and had an inadequate warning. Wal-Mart and Tahsin removed the case to federal court and filed a motion for a summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment is properly granted if there is no genuine issue of material fact. The motion was granted and Mr. Arant appealed the district court’s dismissal of his products liability suit to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.

piggy-bank-1-1241054-1024x764Life insurance benefits can provide beneficiaries with the monetary needs they require. What is a life insurance policy? An insurance company agrees by contract to provide a lump-sum payment, called a death benefit, to the beneficiaries upon the insured’s death in exchange for premium payments. But what happens when the insured dies and the beneficiary encounter problems in getting paid? This case out of Concordia Parish explains entitlement to life insurance proceeds in Louisiana.

On October 16, 2012, Michael Burley and his brother William each purchased life insurance policies from New York Life Insurance Company (“New York Life”) and named the other as beneficiary. Mitch Ashmore, the insurance agent, filled out the application for the policy insuring William’s life and answered “No” to question 3(1) that asked if the applicant had been diagnosed, treated, tested positive for or been given medical advice for drug or alcohol use. In December 2012, the policy insuring William’s life became effective. On April 24, 2013, William died from a heart attack. Mr. Ashmore filed Mr. Burley’s claim for the policy proceeds. On October 14, 2013, New York Life sent a letter to Mr. Burley stating that the answer to question 3(1) should have been “Yes” because of William’s medical records and death certificate listed marijuana use. The letter also stated that New York Life’s normal procedure was to refund all premiums and void the policy. On January 30, 2014, New York Life sent Mr. Burley a check for the premiums.

Mr. Burley filed suit against New York Life seeking the $200,000 policy proceeds, as well as penalties and attorney fees. Mr. Burley filed a Motion for Default Judgment because of New York Life’s failure to Answer. The trial court awarded a default judgment to Mr. Burley for the $200,000 proceeds, $20,000 in penalties under La.R.S. 22:1973, as ewell as $100,000 in penalties under La.R.S. 23:1892. New York Life filed a Motion for a New Trial, which the trial court denied. New York Life appealed the default judgment and the denial of its Motion for New Trial to the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

fencing-1434215-1024x855People have bargained with one another since the dawn of time. Many agreements occur through mere conversation, but memory may be faulty or even denied. Thus, written contracts exist to keep a record of agreements made by two people or business entities. When a disagreement over the meaning of a contract is brought to court, the court will refrain from unnecessarily changing the meaning of words in a contract, opting instead to take the written words literally and simply. RJAM, Inc. v. Miletello, 44 So. 3d 283 (La. Ct. App. 2010). This means that even a single word can completely change how a contract is enforced. A lawsuit concerning that exact issue arose in Parish of Bossier.

In 2004, Endurall, Inc. was created out of an older company that made supplies for oil and gas lines. This new company provided a specific tool for oil rigs. As part of the process of forming the corporation, the four founders signed a non-compete proprietary agreement. This agreement would prevent any of them from going into the same line of business in the same geographical area for two years after leaving the company. In 2012, two of the founding shareholders formed a similar company. They were immediately fired for possibly having used Endurall information to form their new venture, but they did keep their stock. Soon afterward, the two petitioned the court to dissolve Endurall due to the disagreement amongst the stockholders. As a result of the filing, Billy Joe Edwards was no longer a shareholder. His stock and that of the other fired shareholder was sold at private auction to the other two shareholders that had not been involved in the scheme. The two remaining shareholders filed to dismiss the dissolution which was granted.

Soon after, Mr. Edwards and his son created another company that would sell the exact same product line as Endurall only twenty miles away. He also worked for another company selling paraffin products to customers he had worked with while at Endurall. In 2014, the two remaining shareholders sued to have the court enforce the non-compete provision against Mr. Edwards. Any court order which requires a party to do or cease from doing something is an injunction. The trial court granted an injunction ordering Mr. Edwards to stop the competitive business until the agreement expired. Mr. Edwards appealed.

car-crash-1316724-1-1024x768When insurance coverage doesn’t pay enough money to compensate a victim for injuries suffered in a car accident, underinsured motorist coverage exists to fill in the gaps. Louisiana law requires that insurance companies provide this coverage. La. R.S. 22:1295. Although this seems like a simple solution for undercovered individuals, many people are unaware that this type of insurance does not benefit every possible person who may be affected by a car accident; an insurance policy’s contract ultimately determines who and what the policy might cover. This common misperception was at issue in a case that arose in Caddo Parish.

In Texas in 2013, Helen Stopak was killed in an automobile accident while riding in a car owned by one of her daughters. The driver’s insurance company (Safeco) paid $30,000 in benefits to her daughters, one of whom was Lori Marshall. Soon afterward, Mrs. Marshall attempted to claim underinsured motorist benefits from her own husband’s insurance policy provided by the Louisiana Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company (the Farm Bureau). She believed she was entitled to damages under her underinsured motorist insurance policy for wrongful death and for her own mental distress since her mother had been in an underinsured car. The Farm Bureau refused to pay and she sued. The trial court ruled in favor of the Farm Bureau. Mrs. Marshall appealed.

At issue in the Court of Appeal was whether Mrs. Marshall’s mother was insured under the policy. If so, the Farm Bureau would be obligated to pay out its benefits. Even if not specifically mentioned in the policy, the law requiring underinsured motorist coverage acts as if it is part of the insurance contract. Some insurance policies simply include the wording of the statute in order to provide underinsured motorist coverage. A contract can, however, provide for exceptions to these payments, such as not extending it to people or cars not actually under the policy. Lafleur v. Fidelity & Casualty Co. of New York, 385 So.2d 1241 (La. Ct. App. 1980).

areopagus-1214742-1-1024x657Uninsured motorist (UM) liability coverage is additional coverage that can pay for injuries to individuals protected under your policy, including family members in other cars and passengers in your insured cars, resulting from a car accident caused by an uninsured driver. However, this additional coverage can be modified or inapplicable if the insured decides to reject coverage, select lower limits, or select economic-only coverage, which would only cover costs, not non-monetary damages, such as pain and suffering or quality of life damages. UM coverage is also part of most businesses insurance policies. All of these options allow for insurance policies to be flexible, and whatever a policy stipulates is what it will cover, but as a case that arose in the Parish of St. Landry shows, writing and reading an insurance policy isn’t always straight-forward.

In October of 2011, Crystal Bell was driving a company car, owned by Compass Behavioral Center for Crowley, when she was rear-ended by Merlyn Rodgers. Crystal Bell and the occupants of her vehicle filed a lawsuit against Merlyn Rodgers and her insurance company. After filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs amended their complaint by naming Compass’ insurance company, Progressive Insurance Company, as a defendant in order to claim UM coverage.

Prior to the accident, in 2007, a Compass representative, Mark Cullen, had signed a CSL automobile insurance policy with Progressive for $1 million in liability coverage. A CSL policy sets a predetermined limit for the combined total of the Bodily Injury Liability coverage and Property Damage Liability coverage per occurrence or accident. Under Louisiana law, UM coverage must be applied through an Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage form, which is issued by the Commissioner of Insurance. La. R.S. 22:1295. This form, however, lacked a space for addressing CSL policies. So, Cullen initialed the box that stated he selected UM coverage but wrote in “$100,000” for coverage and marked out “each person” and wrote in “CSL.” Cullen did this even though the form indicated that it may not be altered or modified. Progressive filed a motion for summary judgment and asked that the district court rule that the policy in place at the time of the accident was only for $100,000. The plaintiffs’ filed a counter-motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs argued that Compass’ UM form was invalid and therefore UM coverage provided for $1 million in coverage. Alternatively, plaintiffs argued that if the UM coverage form was valid, then it was for $100,000 per person as opposed to only $100,000 for each CSL accident.

oil-refinery-1239476-1024x683In the midst of a very active hurricane season, it is important to remember that Louisiana is no stranger to this type of inevitable damage. However, the dangers involved in disaster clean-up efforts are often forgotten, and far too often people who aid in these efforts aren’t compensated fairly when things turn awry. A recent lawsuit helped linemen who faced similar dangers recover for injuries they sustained during a disaster clean-up.  

Due to a severe storm in 2006, CITGO Petroleum Corporation’s Calcasieu Parish Refinery stormwater and storage system overflowed, resulting in a major oil spill. Experts described the spill as being “catastrophic.”  The storm caused 21 million gallons of wastewater to escape, including 17 million gallons of contaminated wastewater and 4.2 million gallons of slop oil. The escaping hazardous waste spilled into surrounding levees and dikes and contaminated over 100 miles of shoreline along the Calcasieu River and required several months of clean up. Employees of Ron Williams Construction that worked at CITGO’s refinery filed a lawsuit for chemical exposure.

Prior to this lawsuit, several other employees of Ron Williams Construction filed a lawsuit against CITGO (for ease of reference, this prior case will be referred to as Arabie 1) and received a favorable verdict. Arabie v. CITGO Petroleum Corp., 89 So.3d 307 (La. 2012). In Arabie 1, the Ron Williams Construction employees received damages, but after several appeals, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the district court’s award of $30,000 in punitive damages to each employee. This still resulted in a favorable verdict for the employees, but they were awarded less in damages.  

wood-floor-texture-1181928-1024x731It’s a common belief that a landlord is always responsible for the upkeep of a property, and if an injury occurs because of the landlord’s failure to keep premises safe the landlord is financially responsible for any injury suffered. As Kwan Anderson learned the difficult way, however, this is not always the case. A lawsuit out of Parish of Evangeline shows that when a tenant contracts to take on responsibilities of upkeep, they could lose their ability to collect damages for an injury caused by that failure of upkeep.

On September 7, 2012, Anderson fell through a weak part of the floor of a house rented by Meagan Thomas, his girlfriend, and mother of his child. Thomas had rented the house from Wanda Ardoin-Bailey, the owner, on June 9, 2012, and Anderson lived there with Thomas up to the time of his fall. The weak part of the floor had been noted in the lease and the lease also said that Thomas agreed to be responsible for the house’s condition, which included fixing the weak part in the floor. Thomas said her “paw paw” would fix it in exchange for a reduction in rent.  The floor was never repaired.

Anderson filed a petition for damages against Ardoin-Bailey, who answered the petition but also filed a third-party demand against Thomas to have the lease provisions enforced. Ardoin-Bailey also filed a motion for summary judgment. A Motion for Summary Judgment is rendered if “there is no genuine issue as to material fact, and that mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” La. C.C.P. art. 966 (B)(2).  “A material fact is one that would matter on the trial on the merits.” Southpark Cmty. Hosp., LLC v. Southpark Acquisition Co., LLC, 126 So.3d 805, 815 (La. Ct. App. 2013).  If there is no issue on the facts that would matter at a trial, then there is no need for the parties to go further on the lawsuit and it should be dismissed. Summary judgment was granted and Anderson’s lawsuit was dismissed. Anderson appealed.

the-flooded-clay-quarry-1636282-1024x683Lawsuits often appear to be complicated and complex, but what many people don’t know is that the outcome of a lawsuit can often be determined by a simple matter of logistics. The who, what, when, where and why of a situation can make the difference between winning and losing a case. For instance, a simple matter of jurisdiction was the deciding factor in a case brought by a South Louisiana man and his wife.

Mr. Leger was injured on a job site at Peoples Moss Gin in Palmetto Louisiana when a conveyor belt ripped apart and struck him. Leger was employed by Rice Belt Distributors, Inc., a company that was hired to install an eighty-foot vertical conveyor belt in a grain elevator. The conveyor belt which was manufactured by International Conveyors Limited, (ICL) an Indian company, and sold to D.E. Shipp Belting Company (Shipp Belting) using ICL America, a wholesaler of conveyor belts, as an intermediary in the transaction. Mr. Leger and his wife, Gwen Leger, brought a personal injury suit against ICL America, Shipp Belting, International Conveyors, and Brown Cranes whose crane and crane operator were handling the conveyor belt at the time of the accident.

ICL raised a declinatory exception of personal jurisdiction, which allows a party to claim that they are not subject to the court’s power. La.C.C.P. art. 925(A)(5). The trial court granted this exception. The Legers, ICL America, and Burlington Insurance all appealed the decision.

guns-1315486-1024x681Wouldn’t it be a disappointment to have your legal claims dismissed because you missed a filing deadline? The rules that apply to time limits for filing cases can be complicated, as Top Dollar Pawn, Gun and Car Audio #5 in Shreveport, Louisiana found when Top Dollar’s lawsuit was dismissed by the trial court because it was filed after the one-year statute of limitations, the allowed period of time to bring a legal claim, had run.

Top Dollar Pawn, Gun, and Car Audio loaned money to customers, using merchandise the customers gave the store as security for the loan. If a customer failed to repay the loan, Top Dollar sold the merchandise. Between August 2005 and December 2010, officers from the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Shreveport Police Department repeatedly seized merchandise from Top Dollar that they believed had been stolen. They either kept the merchandise in their offices or returned it to the alleged original owners. No hearing was held to determine whether the customer using the merchandise as security for a loan was the lawful owner or had stolen the merchandise.

This procedure was a violation of Louisiana law, which provides a process for handling allegedly stolen goods that have been given to a pawnshop as security for a loan. Because the owners of the pawnshop have the right to due process of law, Louisiana law requires a  hearing before depriving them of property. La. R.S. 37:1805.

car-accident-5-1426862-1024x768After a motor vehicle collision occurs, a court will assign each driver involved a standard of care they were required to maintain. Drivers under Louisiana law are usually subject to ordinary care when driving their vehicle. However, under the law, certain motorists are held to a higher standard or are favored to have less liability if an accident occurs. This differentiation in standards was recently highlighted when a garbage truck was hit by a pickup driving on a three-lane road while pulling out of a Burger King exit.

On August 10, 2009, an accident occurred at the intersection of Carrollton and Tulane Avenue, which has a complicated set-up of four lanes that travel east, three for traffic and one for a bus stop, and three lanes that travel west separated by a concrete median. Gregory Hicks, a garbage truck driver, attempted to cross all four eastbound lanes in order to make a turn onto the westbound lanes, but while doing so his truck blocked all eastbound lanes. The garbage truck, which was owned by Hicks’ employer, IESI LA Corporation, was subsequently struck by a pickup truck driven by Bazzell Hamdan. Hamdan, all of the passengers, and the owner of the pickup truck filed lawsuits against Hicks and IESI. The cases were consolidated and the matters that weren’t settled went to trial in Orleans Parish.

The issues at trial involved the liability of both the defendants and plaintiffs and the damages suffered by the plaintiffs, which included personal injury claims and a property damage claim. The district court found Hicks 100% at fault and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded general damages (pain and suffering) and special damages (medical expenses and insurance policy deductible) in the amount of: $37,000 general and $11,023.38 special to Hamdan, $36,000 general and $12,786.57 special to a passenger and $500 special to the vehicle owner.