heavy-duty-1192390-1024x681Grease is often used to make foods easy to remove from pans and baking sheets. It creates a slippery, smooth surface that allows most foods to slide right out of the pan. Unfortunately, when grease meets a wood floor, humans walking over can slide around as well. Sharon Tomlinson found this out the hard way as a waitress led her to a table in a Daisy Dukes restaurant in May of 2011. It is believed that airborne grease particles settled on the floor, causing Mrs. Tomlinson to fall and injure her knee when she stepped off of a commercial rug and onto the allegedly greasy floor.

Mrs. Tomlinson filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Daisy Dukes and their insurer, Landmark (“Defendants”), for the slip and fall accident. She also filed a spoliation claim alleging the restaurant failed to preserve relevant evidence, such as security camera footage. Denying liability, Daisy Dukes and Landmark moved for summary judgment on both claims, arguing that Mrs. Tomlinson could not produce evidence showing anything was on the floor that contributed to her accident. Louisiana state law puts the burden of proving three different factors, including this one, on the plaintiff (Mrs. Tomlinson). La. R.S. 9:2800.6. Thus, Defendants argued, there were no genuine issues of material fact, and they were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. The trial court agreed and found Mrs. Tomlinson did not meet her burden of proof. The trial court also granted summary judgment against Mrs. Tomlinson on her spoliation claim for the same reasons.

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no issue of material fact from which a jury could find for the non-moving party. See Bilbe v. Foster, 176 So.3d 542 (La. Ct. App. 2015). Here, that means Defendants had to show there were no issues of material fact that could lead a jury to conclude Defendants were liable for the slip and fall injuries. Even without direct evidence, a plaintiff may satisfy their burden of proof with circumstantial evidence as long as it excludes every reasonable alternative cause for the accident, but the trial court found Mrs. Tomlinson could show neither direct or circumstantial evidence. The appellate court did not agree and reversed that decision.

retro-clock-1422611-1024x919Generally, citizens are not held to criminal standards that do not yet exist. When a citizen takes action, he or she is held to the criminal standards in place at the time of the act. To retroactively apply criminal laws is impermissible because that application tends to violate principles of fairness and due process.

In one case out of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the issue was whether the Sledge Jeansonne Louisiana Insurance Fraud Prevention Act (“Sledge Act”) and the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practice and Consumer Protection Act (“LUTPA”) could be applied retroactively to a defendant’s misconduct occurring before the statutes were effective.

The State of Louisiana argues that the principles of fairness and due process would not be violated here because Sledge does not target the underlying conduct but instead is triggered by the entering of a guilty plea. Further, the State argues that civil penalties sought under LUTPA were similarly permissible.

supply-vessel-1449728-1-698x1024Contracts between parties working toward a common goal can sometimes result in detail-oriented litigation when something goes wrong. When those parties need to subcontract with a third party, the responsibility for that third party if something goes wrong can be a point of contention.

In the Western District of Louisiana, a lawsuit and appeal revolved around whether the defendant-appellant, W & T Offshore Incorporated (W&T), or the defendant-appellee, Triton Diving Services (Triton), was responsible for injuries sustained by the plaintiff, Jakarta Grogan. W&T contends that Triton is liable because the injury occurred on Triton’s vessel. Triton disputes all liability and contends that W&T must pay for Mr. Grogan’s injuries, due to the contractual relationship between them.

W&T operates a pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico and hired Triton to participate in a recommissioning project. Triton was to be responsible for flushing the pipeline for impurities and was able to do so by using a dive support vessel called the Achiever. The two parties signed a Master Services Contract that allowed Triton operational control of the vessel but granted overall operational control to W&T. During the flushing process, Triton detected potentially unsafe levels of hydrogen sulfide being released. Due to this hazard, Triton consulted with W&T engineer, Alan Greig, about how to proceed. Mr. Greig recommended they hire a third party to help resolve the issue, and they brought Tiger Safety onto the project. W&T representatives, including Mr. Greig himself, made the necessary arrangements with Tiger Safety. The Plaintiff, Mr. Grogan, was one of Tiger Safety’s personnel that boarded the Achiever in order to resolve the hydrogen sulfide issue. Mr. Grogan acted under the direction of W&T’s on-site representative and provided necessary information gathered to said representative. The problem was resolved, and Tiger Safety’s personnel had been discharged. During the departure from the Achiever, Mr. Grogan fell. He subsequently sued both W&T and Triton for the injuries he sustained. W&T and Triton filed cross-claims against one another, and each defendant claimed indemnification. Simply, each defendant claimed that they could not be held liable for Mr. Grogan’s injuries because the other defendant had contracted to release them from any potential claims. The contract between the parties held that Triton indemnified W&T from personal injury claims brought by members of the ‘contractor group’. The term ‘contractor group’ was meant to refer to the Contractor, its parent company, affiliated companies, and all respective officers, employees, and invitees on the work sites. The district court held in favor of Triton and found that, based on all relevant facts, Mr. Grogan was W&T’s invitee. W&T appealed the ruling.

Constr-hats-768x1024Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. We’ve heard it since kindergarten. Yet, sometimes it is easy to forget the basics when a case seems to be open-and-shut.

In 2003, Mr. JL, an East Baton Rouge employee of Landis Construction Company (“Landis”), was injured on the job. Landis’ insurance carrier, (“Gray”), paid workers’ compensation and medical benefits to the employee. Landis and Gray asked the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration (“Board”) to reimburse the payments made to Mr. JL but the Board denied the request. Six years later, Landis and Gray entered a Consent Judgment with the Board. Later, in 2013, Landis and Gray filed a Petition to Enforce Consent Judgment to enforce the 2009 Consent Judgment. One year later, in 2014, Landis and Gray filed a Motion to Enforce Consent Judgment.

The trial court held for Landis and Gray, awarding $28,095.60 in April of 2017. The Board appealed.

tahoe-beetschen-1368685-unsplash-1024x683The bond between people and their dogs can be one as close as family. Whether they serve as pets, guides, or even co-workers, dogs can provide a type of comfort and comradeship that is completely unique. It is sometimes easy to forget that dogs are animals that can chase, scratch, and even bite on a moment’s notice. While most people don’t like to believe that their canine companions would hurt others, many dogs—even the most docile or trained—are capable of causing harm quickly, and it is important to know how to handle these situations. This issue was explored in a case appealed to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal after an incident at Louisiana State University.

On October 20, 2012, the Kiwanis Club Pancake Festival (“Pancake Festival”) was in full swing at the Louisiana State University Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Officers Matthew Hall and Johnny Sparks attended the event. Officer Hall brought and was in charge of his K-9, Sita, a Belgian Malinois. Officer Sparks brought a robot that the state police use for detecting explosives. The officers stayed outside of the Pancake Festival to educate the public about Sita and the purpose of the robot. During the event, patrons had permission to approach and pet Sita.

Fredericka Bradley, a 10-year-old child, attended the Pancake Festival with her mother, Hazel Bradley, her cousin, Preston Henderson, and two neighbor children, Bradisa White and Sade Townsend. After eating breakfast, Mrs. Bradley stayed inside while the children went outside. At this point, each party in the litigation has a different story as to how events unfolded. According to Officer Hall, Sita sat next to him—leashed—as patrons came up to them. Fredericka approached and asked pet Sita. She also tried to hug the dog, but Hall told her not to. Fredericka walked away, then returned to pet Sita again. Officer Hall was sitting with Sita, speaking to a man and two children when Fredericka came up a third time. Officer Hall claimed Fredericka tried to sit on Sita, so he pulled Fredericka away and reminded her only petting was allowed. While Officer Hall pet Sita’s neck, Fredericka came behind the dog and pet her head. Sita snapped at the child and bit her on the face, leaving a small puncture wound. Officer Hall stated Sita had not shown any aggression prior to the incident.

65-Email-3_13_19-1024x683A common litigation tactic for plaintiffs is to bring cases in federal court to obtain greater damage awards. However, a plaintiff must have a viable claim under federal law or their case will be dismissed by the federal district court for lack of jurisdiction.

Following a car accident in which Cheryl Price was hospitalized with injuries, she hired attorney ES to represent her. ES secured a settlement for approximately $4,000 from the at-fault driver’s insurance company, the check for which ES deposited into his firm’s trust account. A lien placed by the hospital prevented ES from immediate disbursement of the money to Price. ES stated that the check included “Medicaid Recovery” as a payee, and told Price that he could not release the money until the lien issue was resolved. Price filed a complaint against ES with the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board who conducted an investigation and concluded that no disciplinary action was warranted. ES’s firm eventually endorsed the check and released the money to Price.

Price then filed a pro se motion against ES, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, and the Louisiana Office of Risk Management claiming violations of due process under the 14th Amendment, violations under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, and violations of state law. Price sought compensatory and punitive damages. All defendants moved to dismiss her claims.

64-photo-3_13_19-768x1024Worker’s compensation (WC) is a system designed to compensate workers for injuries that occur on the job. The system also helps to spread the risk of loss among numerous employers, similar to an insurance arrangement that employers pay into. Still, employers have an interest in ensuring that WC claims are valid in order to keep overall costs down. As a result, WC cases can lead to bitter disputes between workers and their employers.

Andrew Schmidt was a diver for the Cal-Dive company in Lafayette, Louisiana in 2010 when he suffered a brain injury due to decompression sickness that occurred during a work-related dive. Two years later, Schmidt filed a lawsuit against Cal-Dive alleging that the injury left him permanently disabled. He claimed that the brain injury resulted in a condition that required him to remain in a supine position nearly all the time. Cal-Dive didn’t believe Schmidt’s claim and Cal-Dive hired private investigators to surveil Schmidt for evidence that his claim was fraudulent. The observation turned up nothing favorable for challenging Schmidt’s claim. Schmidt was examined by multiple medical professionals who offered conflicting expert opinions about whether Schmidt was permanently disabled. Shortly before trial, Schmidt and Cal-Dive settled and the trial court dismissed the case.

Even though the matter was settled, Cal-Dive continued to have Schmidt followed by private investigators. The PIs discovered that Schmidt purchased a new car and was observed cutting grass, shopping, driving, and jogging. As a result, Cal-Dive filed for relief from the trial court’s order to dismiss the case under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(d)(1) so it could amend its original complaint against Schmidt and set aside the settlement. Schmidt filed a motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The district court denied Cal-Dive’s request to set aside the settlement and refused to permit Cal-Dive to amend the complaint, finding that it would be futile. Cal-Dive appealed.

63-photo-3_13_19-1024x683Under Louisiana law, an owner of a building is not necessarily responsible for all injuries resulting from any risk posed by the building. Owners are only responsible for those injuries caused by defective conditions, and courts have recognized that defendants have no general duty to protect against hazards that are “open and obvious.” The logic behind this approach is that when a risk is open and obvious to everyone, the probability of injury is low. As a result, the owner of the premises is not required to go to the trouble and expense of fixing the condition that could be easily avoided by prudent persons.

In 2013, Roger Butler was working at an International Paper mill in Dequincy, Louisiana. His supervisor instructed him to clear a board jam from a chipping machine. While clearing the board jam, Butler fell down a set of stairs and suffered serious injuries. Butler brought suit against the mill claiming that the mill’s negligence caused his injuries because the stairs he fell down was covered in wood chips and other debris. The mill filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the wood chips and debris on the stairs were an “open and obvious” hazard against which it had no duty to protect Butler. The district court granted the mill’s motion, finding that Butler did not show there was a genuine issue of material fact concerning the mill’s duty because the hazard that caused his injuries was open and obvious. Butler appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

For a hazard to be considered “open and obvious,” it must be apparent to all who encounter the dangerous condition, and not just the plaintiff who is injured because of it. See Broussard v. State ex. Rel. Office of State Bldgs., 113 So. 3d 175, 183 (La. 2013). Butler argued that there was no evidence the chips on the stairs were an open and obvious hazard to anyone other than himself. However, based on the video evidence provided by International Paper, the wood chips and debris were so numerous and prominent that it would be considered open and obvious to a jury. The Fifth Circuit Court concluded that the video evidence was sufficient to establish an open and obvious hazard, and nothing further was required by International Paper to establish that fact.

agreement-blur-business-261621-1024x768Louisiana citizens interact with contract law every day, in many cases without even realizing it. Whether buying groceries at a supermarket with a credit card or installing a new iPhone app, countless purchases are governed by consumer agreements. What may be even less known to purchasers is that many of these agreements include an arbitration clause, which provides that any disputes arising out of that agreement must be handled by an arbitrator rather than a court. Arbitration is a form of “alternative dispute resolution” in which an arbitrator — typically a certified attorney —  evaluates the parties’ claims and renders a binding decision as to who should prevail. In general, companies prefer arbitration because it costs less than litigation. But because the rules of arbitration can vary significantly from the rules of court, the consumer does not always benefit from being kept away from the courthouse. The validity of arbitration clauses is a common point of contention. Although Louisiana generally favors arbitration, the legislature has enacted the Louisiana Arbitration Act (“LLA”) (see La. R.S. 9:4201) to ensure that arbitration proceeds fairly.

Arbitration is also common in commercial agreements. In 2013, a sales representative of UniFirst Corporation (“UniFirst”) approached the shop foreman at the Homer, Louisiana location of Fluid Disposal Specialties, Inc. (“FDS”). The shop foreman’s job title was Manager of Transportation Logistics. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss FDS’s entering into a contract with UniFirst to provide uniforms to FDS employees. After nearly six months of negotiation, a price was agreed upon and the FDS shop foreman executed a contract with UniFirst. The contract contained an arbitration clause. Later, FDS attempted to void the contract, citing that the shop foreman did not have the authority to bind the company. Unifirst argued that, based on the arbitration clause in the agreement, the matter should be settled by an arbitrator. FDS, preferring to avail itself of the court, argued that because the contract itself was invalid, any clauses within it — including the arbitration clause — could not be valid either.

The case eventually made its way to Louisiana’s Second Circuit Court of Appeal, which applied a two-step analysis commonly relied upon by the courts. The first step is to determine whether there is a valid agreement to arbitrate between the parties; the second is to determine whether the dispute in question falls within the scope of that arbitration agreement. In applying the first step, the Court determined that the agreement was invalid because the FDS shop foreman lacked the authority to enter into a contract with UniFirst. In response to UniFirst’s argument that the foreman had apparent authority, a doctrine in which an innocent third party (Unifirst) could rely on the representations of an agent (the FDS shop foreman) when entering an agreement (see American Zurich Insurance Co. v. Johnson, 850 So. 1112 (La. Ct. App. 2003)), the Court found that both the shop foreman’s job title and the six-month negotiation period should have indicated to UniFirst that the foreman was not in a position to enter into a contract for uniform services. For these reasons, the Court found that no agreement existed between the parties and therefore there was no need to apply the second step of the analysis. Arbitration cannot be compelled under an agreement that never came into being. The Court went on to note, however, that UniFirst could still proceed against FDS for any obligation or damages arising from FDS’s use of the uniforms that UniFirst provided the shop.

revolt-368925-unsplash-1024x683Imagine you are driving home from work and you collide with another vehicle. Would your employer be liable for the damages? For most commuters, the employer is not accountable for any accidents that occur on the way to or from the place of work and the employee’s residence. But in certain cases, such as where an employee is traveling with a specific business purpose under the direction of the employer, the employer may be on the hook under a theory known as vicarious liability. Effectively, vicarious liability holds an employer liable for an employee’s negligence when the employee is acting within the scope of the employer’s business. La. C.C. art. 2320.

On December 20, 2009, James Richards was traveling from Texas to his home in Florida along Interstate 10. In Bienville Parish, Louisiana, Richards collided with a van, causing the death of the driver and severe, paralyzing injuries to the passenger, Ricky Winzer. In 2010, Winzer filed a lawsuit against Richards and Richards’s employer, Certified Constructors’ Service, Inc. (“CCSI”). Winzer alleged that Richards was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident, making CCSI liable through the doctrine of vicarious liability. CCSI filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Richards was not employed at the time of the accident and therefore CCSI could not be liable for his negligence. The trial court, after an evidentiary hearing in which depositions, interrogatories, and payroll documents were submitted, granted CCSI’s motion. Winzer appealed to Louisiana’s Second Circuit Court of Appeal.

Upon review, the Court reiterated the general rule under Louisiana jurisprudence that an employer is not liable for an employee’s negligence when they are driving to and from work unless the employer provides the transportation, pays expenses or wages for the time spent traveling, or has assigned the employee a specific  task to perform for the employer. See Woolard v. Atkinson, 988 So. 2d 836 (La. Ct. App. 2008). To determine if the employee’s actions fall within one of the above exceptions, courts must examine the following factors:  the employer’s power of control; the employee’s duty to perform the act in question; the time, place, and purpose of the act in relation to the employment; the relationship between the employee’s act and the employer’s business; the benefits received by the employer from the act; the employee’s motivation for performing the act; and the employer’s reasonable expectation that the employee would perform the act. See Orgeron v. McDonald, 639 So. 2d 224 (La. 1994).