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.  

old-family-photos-1423774-1024x768As individuals approach the end of their life or encounter health problems, they may utilize a general power of attorney (POA) in order to care for their property. A POA is a written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or some other legal matter. The individual executing the POA is the principal and the individual acting under the POA is the principal’s agent. Dealing with a POA can be difficult since it is usually exercised during a stressful period in the principal’s life. Recently, the issue of using a POA was made even more complicated when it stirred up family drama in the Parish of Lincoln District Court after an agent used the POA to transfer all of the principal’s property into his own account days prior to the principal’s death.   

Kimberly Pee Tatum, Roy Pee, Timothy Pee and Raymond Pee filed a lawsuit against Joseph Daniel Riley in order to void a gift that Riley donated to himself. Riley was the son of Barbara McManus’ second marriage and the plaintiffs were the children of McManus’ first marriage. Riley acted as McManus’ agent under a POA, with McManus as the principal. On January 30, 2006, Riley donated all of McManus’ immovable property, including 32 acres and a house, to himself.  This was done before a notary and witnessed by two witnesses. McManus passed away days later, on February 2, 2006.

At trial, the plaintiffs attempted to show that Riley’s donation left McManus without sufficient funds to care for herself. The plaintiffs presented bills to show that there was no way McManus could care for herself but the plaintiffs admitted these bills were not actually McManus’ bills; the bills presented were from the plaintiffs’ memory and by looking at what was paid by other single, older women. Additionally, Riley testified that he and McManus shared a joint checking account. McManus received $1,037 dollars from Social Security every month and $100 dollars in royalties that were deposited into the shared account. Riley testified that even though they shared an account, McManus paid her own bills and Riley even supported McManus sometimes with his own money.  Riley’s wife, Amy Riley, testified and stated the same thing as Riley. She said McManus never asked them for money but they offered her money when they wanted to. Further, Amy said that even though they shared an account, Riley and herself paid for all of their bills from a separate account. The District Court in the Parish of Lincoln sided with Riley and held that the POA expressly authorized him to donate all of McManus’ property to any person, including himself.  The district court also held that public policy was not violated through the donation.  

motorcycle-stunt-1390738-1-1024x768Suffering through an accident is bad enough, but dealing with the aftermath of that accident can be even worse without the help of a great attorney. An often overlooked but critical step in dealing with the consequences of an accident is deciding who to include or exclude from a release, which is a contractual agreement in which one party agrees to give up their right to bring a claim against another party. As Trena and Thomas Garrison learned after their accident in Baton Rouge, a small oversight on a seemingly standard release could result in a substantial loss of potential recovery.

On April 21, 2010, the Garrisons were on their motorcycle driving down O’Neal Lane in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when Mr. Garrison lost control of the motorcycle and crashed. In the months following the accident, Mrs. Garrison released Mr. Garrison, his insurer State Farm Insurance, and all other persons, firms or corporations from any and all claims resulting from the accident in exchange for $25,000.  

About one year later, the Garrisons filed a petition for damages against James Construction Group, LLC. The Garrisons alleged that the accident was caused by a large hole or trench in the road in an area that was under the custody of and being maintained by James Construction. On September 16, 2011, Mrs. Garrison signed an amended release that specifically reserved her rights to bring a claim against James Construction resulting from the April 21, 2010, accident.  

energy-1495365-1024x768After making a successful workers’ compensation claim, an insurer may make a subrogation claim, which is the right of an insurer to recover the amount paid out in a claim from a third party that caused the claim to occur. However, failure to properly reserve this right can affect an insurer’s right to recovery and possibly bar recovery altogether. A recent lawsuit in the Orleans Parish highlighted this fact.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, numerous workers were needed in order to restore Louisiana’s power grid. Mr. Scarberry was a former electrical lineman for Oklahoma Gas and Electric company (OGE). OGE is part of the Southeastern electrical Exchange (SEE), which is a nonprofit trade association composed of numerous utility companies that provide electricity throughout the U.S. Members in the SEE enter into Mutual Assistance Agreements, which govern relationships between requesting members and responding members. In this case, Entergy Gulf States Louisiana L.L.C. and Entergy Services, Inc. (collectively referred to as Entergy) requested the assistance of OGE in restoring power throughout Louisiana. As a result of this request, Mr. Scarberry began working for Entergy in Jennings, Louisiana under an agreement.  

During his efforts, Mr. Scarberry was severely electrocuted and became permanently disabled as a result of the accident with no chance for gainful employment in the future. Mr. Scarberry filed a lawsuit in July 2009 against Entergy. During this period, Mr. Scarberry received workers compensation from OGE in the amount of $150,162.49. OGE received reimbursement for these payments from Entergy, which was acknowledged with a “receipt” executed on August 1, 2011, pursuant to their agreement.  OGE also reserved their right to subrogation with the receipt.  

motel-sign-1258206-1024x768When a patron is injured by a third party at a hotel, the patron might wish to seek damages from a national franchisor. There are however several criteria to establish a franchisor’s liability making it very difficult for a patron to recover in the absence of direct links between the injury and negligence.  In a recent case out of New Orleans, a shooting victim was left with little recourse against the big company behind the local Motel 6.  

In this case, Jorge A. Espinosa was staying at the Motel 6 on Gentilly Boulevard in New Orleans, Louisiana when he was shot in the Motel’s parking lot. The armed robber entered the Motel’s parking lot through a missing section in the Motel’s fence.  Mr. Espinosa’s injuries left  Mr. Espinosa a paraplegic.  Mr. Espinosa filed a lawsuit against the national franchise, Accor Franchising North America (“Accor”) as well as the local franchisee, Century Bayou Hospitality, LLC (“Bayou”) and their respective insurance companies.  Mr. Espinosa claimed the missing section of the Motel’s fence led to the robber entering the property and shooting Mr. Espinosa.  The District Court for the Parish of Orleans granted Accor’s motion for summary judgment reasoning that Accor could not be held liable because there was no evidence that Accor controlled, owned, or operated the Motel.  Mr. Espinosa appealed to the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal asserting that Accor was directly negligent and that the company had authority over Bayou making them vicariously liable.     

To establish liability, a plaintiff must first show that the defendant had a duty to protect against the plaintiff’s injury.  To prove that defendant had a duty to protect against a property defect, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had custody over the thing which caused the damage and this thing contained a defect posing an unreasonable risk of harm which caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  See Wiley v. Sanders, 796 So. 2d 51, 55 (La. Ct. App. 2001).  The defective condition must be of a dangerous nature which would be reasonably expected to cause an injury to a prudent person using ordinary care.   A business has a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of its patrons.  However, this duty does not extend to unforeseeable injuries that were caused by the criminal acts of third parties.  See Mundy v. Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 609 So. 2d 909, 912 (La. Ct. App. 1992).  Moreover, vicarious liability will not apply to the principal when an independent contractor relationship exists and the principal actor does not control the contractor’s day to day operations. See Morales v. Davis Bros. Const. Co.,  647 So. 2d 1302, 1305 (La. Ct. App. 1994).   

misc-rig-oil-ship-yard-equipme-1468457-1024x768In the insurance industry, one of the most important issues to consider when determining whether a claim is covered under a policy is the wording of the contract. Whether it is home, auto, life, or, as in this case a marine insurance policy, the exact words of the contract will control whether or not a specific claim will be paid out. Equally important are the laws which will control how those words are interpreted. And in a recent case out of Louisiana, one insured was out of luck over the interpretation of one small word.  

In a recent Louisiana case, Union Oil Company of California, which owned an offshore drilling platform near the coast of Louisiana, contracted with Shaw Global Energy Services Inc. (“Shaw”) from Delcambre, Louisiana, to perform sandblasting and painting for the platform. In 2003, Michael Cash, an employee of Shaw, was injured by an employee of Max Welders, Inc. while being transferred by crane from a platform to a supply vessel. Mr. Cash filed a lawsuit against Max Welders, its primary insurance company, and its marine excess insurer, Liberty Insurance Underwriters, Inc. (“Liberty”).  During the course of the lawsuit, Liberty notified Max Welders that they were declining to cover the incident with Mr. Cash because the act of ferrying Mr. Cash to and from the platform fell under an exclusion in the excess insurance policy. The exclusion Liberty pointed to was a platform exclusion where they would not cover anything “arising out of the ownership, use or operation of . . . platforms.”  Max Welders, the primary insurer, and Mr. Cash settled for the policy limit of one million dollars. But because of the severity of Mr. Cash’s injuries, Max Welders agreed to pay an additional four hundred thousand dollars.

Max Welders brought a cross-claim against Liberty alleging the platform exclusion did not apply and that coverage should be extended to cover the four hundred thousand dollars in excess payment.  The United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana agreed with Max Welders that the platform exclusion did not apply because the word “use” in the insurance policy was ambiguous.  The District Court reasoned that because the transferring of Mr. Cash to the vessel was not within the intended purpose of an oil rig platform (extracting energy) that the exclusion did not apply and the insurance company had to pay Max Welders for the four hundred thousand dollars.  Liberty appealed to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.