Diving into complex legal issues is difficult but necessary. One particular example is the idea of prescription, or timing involved in filing a case. The exception of prescription is a limit on actions that may be brought, and has proven to be a successful defense. Peremptory exceptions may be asserted when the time for filing the type of claim involved has expired prior to the filing of the petition. The rules of prescription and peremption are set forth in the Louisiana Civil Code. This defense may be pleaded at any stage in the trial court proceeding prior to a submission, the burden is generally on the asserting party, and fact findings are reviewed under the error-clearly wrong standard.
An application of this defense can be seen in a recent case. Five inmates at the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPSC) filed suit against the DPSC following an automobile accident, claiming negligence and failure to ensure medical treatment for injuries sustained. The defendants filed exceptions of lack of subject matter jurisdiction, improper venue, and prescription. The plaintiffs subsequently filed an amended petition asserting that the Corrections Administrative Remedy Procedure was unconstitutional.
The trial court found that the plaintiff’s claims had prescribed, with the exception of one plaintiff (whose prescriptive period was suspended from the time he filed his grievance until an agency decision was delivered). “Delictual actions are subject to a liberative prescription of one year [which] . . . commences to run from the day injury . . . is sustained.” “Prescription is interrupted when . . . the obligee commences action against the obligor in a court of competent jurisdiction and venue. If the court or venue is improper, then prescription is interrupted only as to a defendant served within the prescriptive period.
The plaintiffs in this case had one year from the accident on January 9, 2007, and they filed suit on January 9, 2008. The defendants filed an exception of improper venue and a transfer was deemed proper. The defendants were not served within the prescriptive period, and the filing in an improper venue did not interrupt prescription. Therefore, because the plaintiffs filed suit in an improper venue and failed to serve the defendants prior to the expiration of the prescriptive period, the claims had prescribed. The plaintiffs then tried to contend that their deficiency was cured by the amended petition, but an unconstitutional statute would not extend the prescriptive period.
The takeaway from this case is that as an initial step in defending any lawsuit, it is important to always check the date of the filing of the petition against the date of the event giving rise to the action. The next step is to research the Civil Code and Revised Statutes to determine the applicable prescription and preemption periods. It is worth noting that Louisiana law contains many special prescription and preemption statutes.