In a recent Louisiana workers’ compensation case, a man filed suit after deciding that the settlement agreement he signed was reached based on misrepresentations. The man was rendered quadriplegic after falling from a roof he was working on during his employment as a roofer. After his injury, he hired an attorney and attended several mediations, which resulted in the signing of a settlement agreement. However, about half a year after the settlement agreement was approved, the man filed a disputed claim for compensation, asking for the settlement to be set aside because it was based on misrepresentations.
What is interesting in this case, though, is that It was not the other party that the man believed misrepresented the facts, but rather, his own attorneys. The plaintiff claims that his own attorneys told him that he would continue receiving 24-hour nursing care and other medical services after the settlement, but this was not the case.
The plaintiff’s motion to set aside the settlement agreement was denied, and the plaintiff then brought suit against his own attorneys, claiming legal malpractice in their representation of him. After a three-day trial, the jury decide to rule in favor of the attorneys and against the injured man. Furthermore, when the plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, the trial court also denied that request. The plaintiff appealed the case at that point.
Although the plaintiff’s appeal was ultimately denied and the judgment of the trial court dismissing the plaintiff’s suit affirmed, the case sheds light on an important issue: an “assignment of errors.” An assignment of errors is basically a report or statement of all of the alleged errors made by the lower court in reaching its prior decision(s). The appellant (the one appealing the case) must compile this list and state all of the errors made by the trial court. This document is important because anything not included in it will likely not be considered by the court, so the appellant must make sure that the assignment of errors is comprehensive.
The plaintiff in this case listed several errors made by the trial court. For example, one of the errors related to the facts given to the jury in the “jury charge.” Specifically, the trial court told the jury that the workers’ compensation court had ruled that there was no evidence of misrepresentation, even though this judgment had not been entered into evidence. However, the appellate court found that this was not an error in the jury instructions. When taken in the context of all of the given jury instructions, the court found that the jury instruction was not misleading, or at least not misleading to the extent that it impeded justice. In order to make this determination, the appellate court turned to case law issued by the Supreme Court in which the Supreme Court stated that the determinative question when deciding whether jury instructions constitute an error or not is whether the jury instructions misled the jury to the point that the jury was prevented from “dispensing justice.” In this case, the appellate court ruled that they had not.
In addition to his claim of error with regard to the jury charge, the plaintiff also went on to claim that there were other errors made by the trial court, including an error for excluding the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert, an error for not granting the plaintiff $30,000 under a specific Louisiana law, and an error with regard to evidence at one of the hearings, among others. However, in the end all of the man’s errors were dismissed and the ruling of the trial court was upheld. For each dismissal of a claimed error, the appellate court performed an in-depth analysis of the requisite law, explaining why no error had occurred.
From looking over the court’s analysis in this case, it is clear that in order to successfully file an assignment of errors and win your case, the assignment of errors has to be cautiously and carefully written out.
If you have been in a similar personal injury or workers’ compensation case recently and want to make sure that you have competent representation, contact Berniard Law Firm at (504) 521-6000.