Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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This case involves a three-car consecutive rear-end collision. The plaintiffs, Scott Eastman and his wife, filed a lawsuit against Jillian Peterson and her insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, alleging that Peterson was solely liable for the accident because she negligently rear-ended Eastman's vehicle. Peterson and State Farm denied the allegations, contending that Eastman was comparatively at fault for the accident because he impacted the vehicle in front of him prior to being rear-ended by Peterson. They also disputed the severity of Eastman's injuries caused by the accident and argued that a majority of his alleged injuries and damages were due to a pre-existing condition.The case was tried before a jury, which found both Peterson and Eastman comparatively liable for the accident, assigning fifty-percent fault to each. The jury also found that Eastman had been injured in the accident and awarded him damages. Eastman then filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), arguing that the jury erred as the evidence strongly and overwhelmingly favored a finding of sole liability on the part of Peterson. The trial court granted the JNOV, finding Peterson solely liable for the accident and increasing the damages awarded to Eastman. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment.The Supreme Court of Louisiana granted certiorari to review the lower courts' judgments. The court found that the trial court erred in granting the JNOV as to both liability and damages. The court noted that there was conflicting, credible testimony as to whether Eastman collided with the vehicle ahead of him prior to being impacted from behind by Peterson. The court also found that the evidence did not so strongly and overwhelmingly favor Eastman that reasonable jurors could not reach different conclusions. Therefore, the court reversed the court of appeal, vacated the judgment of the trial court, and reinstated the jury's verdict. View "EASTMAN VS. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a wrongful death suit filed by Catherine Evans, the mother of Tommy Wiley's children, against Abubaker, Inc., the owner of a convenience store where Wiley was shot and killed. The incident occurred in the store's parking lot during a verbal altercation between Wiley and Cedric Daniels. Wiley struck Daniels in the face, and Daniels retaliated by shooting and killing Wiley. Evans alleged that the store owner had a duty to provide heightened security measures due to the store's location in a high crime area and its history of criminal activity. She claimed that Abubaker's failure to implement such measures made it liable for Wiley's death.The district court denied Abubaker's motion for summary judgment, which argued that the shooting was not foreseeable and that Wiley was not an innocent bystander but was engaged in criminal activity at the time of the shooting. The court found that there were questions of fact regarding the foreseeability of the crime and whether Abubaker had a duty to provide additional security. The appellate court upheld the district court's decision.The Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed the lower courts' decisions. The court found that Wiley was not acting as a store patron but was engaged in criminal activity at the time of the incident. Therefore, Abubaker had no duty to protect Wiley from the consequences of his own actions. The court held that Abubaker should have been granted summary judgment as it had no duty to protect Wiley under the circumstances of the case. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. View "EVANS VS. ABUBAKER, INC." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Louisiana considered whether an architect and contract administrator had duty of care towards an employee of a subcontractor under the terms of a construction contract. The employee, Gustavo Bonilla, had been injured during a demolition job and filed a suit alleging negligence against Verges Rome Architects (VRA) and Morphy Makofsky, Inc. (MMI). VRA had been hired as a consultant for design and contract administration services. The trial court ruled in favor of VRA, but the court of appeal reversed this decision.Upon review, the Supreme Court of Louisiana found that the contract terms were clear and unambiguous, and did not impose a duty on VRA to oversee, supervise, or maintain the construction site or Mr. Bonilla’s safety. VRA was required to make weekly site visits to ensure work was progressing according to specifications. However, the contract specifically stated that these visits should not be construed as supervision of actual construction. Responsibility for site safety and construction methods was allocated to the contractor.The Court concluded that VRA could not be held liable for failing to perform duties it was not contractually obligated to undertake. As a result, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal's decision and reinstated the trial court's judgment, which granted summary judgment in favor of VRA. View "BONILLA VS. VERGES ROME ARCHITECTS" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was whether the court of appeal properly found no abuse of discretion in a jury’s award of approximately $10 million in general damages to plaintiff Henry Pete who developed mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos. Intertwined with this issue was the fundamental question of the manner by which appellate courts were to review damage awards for excessiveness; necessarily, the same rules would apply in determining whether an award was too low. Louisiana jurisprudence had a long-standing general principle that, in reviewing a general damage award, the “initial inquiry . . . is whether the trier of fact abused its discretion in assessing the amount of damages.” Thereafter, and only when a determination has been made that the “trier of fact has abused its ‘much discretion,’” will a court “resort to prior awards . . . and then only for the purpose of determining the highest or lowest point which is reasonably within that discretion.” Such determinations are not subject to mathematical exactitude or scientific precision. The Court held that an appellate court must consider relevant prior general damage awards as guidance in determining whether a trier of fact’s award is an abuse of discretion. Applying this principle to this case, the Court found the jury abused its discretion in awarding $9,800,00.00 in general damages. "The evidence presented at trial does not support an award that far exceeds the highest reasonable awards in cases involving similar injuries. Accordingly, based on the evidence adduced at trial, we find $5,000,000.00 to be the highest amount that could reasonably be awarded." View "Pete v. Boland Marine & Mfg. Co, LLC et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Oris Latour was injured after he tripped and fell at Steamboat Bill’s restaurant (“Steamboat”) in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Latour alleged he tripped on a concrete ledge that ran perpendicular to the end of a row of dining tables. Contending the ledge was disguised and dangerous, he filed a negligence suit against the restaurant owner. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Latour, finding Steamboat 80 percent at fault and awarding Latour damages totaling $675,053. On appeal, the court found the district court committed reversible error related to two pretrial evidentiary rulings which affected the outcome of the case. The court of appeal conducted a de novo review of the entire record and found Latour met his burden of proving negligence. The appellate court then assessed Steamboat with 85 percent of the fault and Latour with 15 percent fault. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine: (1) whether the court of appeal erred in finding Latour met his burden of proving Steamboat was negligent pursuant to La. R.S. 9:2800.6; and (2) whether, after finding prejudicial error, the court of appeal erred in increasing Steamboat’s percentage of fault on de novo review, although Latour did not appeal or answer the appeal. After conducting a de novo review of the entire record, the Supreme Court found Latour met his burden of proof under La. R.S. 9:2800.6. The Court also found consistent with statutory law and secondarily, jurisprudence, Steamboat could not be assessed with a greater percentage of fault than the 80 percent assigned by the jury. Because Latour did not appeal or answer the appeal, the 20 percent of fault allocated to him cannot be reduced. Therefore, on de novo review, the Supreme Court allocated fault at 80 percent to Steamboat and 20 percent to Latour. View "Latour v. Steamboats, LLC" on Justia Law

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In April 2019, plaintiff Zach Bellard petitioned for damages for personal injuries he allegedly sustained when a defective attic/ceiling joist broke and caused him to fall while working as a plumber on a construction project (the “Project”) involving renovations to a building located on the campus of The University of Louisiana at Lafayette (“ULL”). Plaintiff named as defendants: ATK Construction, LLC (“ATK”), Bernard, the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, Garden City Construction Co., Inc., United Fire & Indemnity Company, and American Empire Surplus Lines Insurance Company. Plaintiff alleged his injuries were due to the fault and negligence of the Defendants and that, as a result of their fault and/or obligation to insure, Defendants were individually and jointly liable. Plaintiff did not allege any contractual privity with the Defendants, including Bernard, or any other source of liability beyond negligence. Over one year after Plaintiff filed his petition, Bernard filed a third party demand against Doug Ashy, alleging it entered into a contract with ULL in 2017 to furnish all labor, materials, equipment, transportation, supervision, permits, etc., necessary to complete “Phase I” renovations to the Project. Doug Ashy filed an Exception of Prematurity and an Exception of Prescription, asserting: (1) the tort indemnity claim was premature because Bernard had not suffered a compensable loss; and (2) the claims for redhibition and products liability were prescribed because Bernard failed to file its third party demand within 90 days of Plaintiff’s demand pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 1041. Doug Ashy also filed an Exception of No Right and/or No Cause of Action. The district court granted the Exception of Prematurity and Exception of Prescription and found the Exception of No Right and/or No Cause of Action to be moot as a result of its ruling. While both Doug Ashy and Bernard focused their arguments to the Louisiana Supreme Court on prematurity and prescription of Bernard’s third party claims, the Court observed it was questionable whether the facts alleged in the petition could ever support a third party claim for tort indemnity. The Court remanded the case to the district court for reconsideration of Plaintiff's exceptions: "a suit alleging liability of a defendant arising solely as a result of its own fault cannot support a defendant’s claim for tort indemnity." View "Bellard v. ATK Construction, LLC et al." on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2010, SD and DJ attended the Rock Solid Camp, a Shreveport day camp providing sports and other activities to children of varying ages. SD was an eight-year-old special education student with a mild case of Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (“CdLS”). At that time, fourteen-year-old DJ was on probation for aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of fourteen in Texas and had been accused of a sexual assault in March 2010 at Northwest Regional Mental Health Center, where he had been receiving counseling. As a juvenile on probation, DJ was eligible for State-provided services. DJ’s case coordinator at the Shreveport region Office of Behavioral Health (“OBH”), an arm of the State of Louisiana, Department of Health and Hospitals (“DHH”), approved the funding for DJ to attend Rock Solid Camp, and the State of Louisiana paid his camp tuition. Jared Green, a camp counselor, gave SD permission to use the men’s restroom. When SD took longer than expected to return, Mr. Green went into the restroom and discovered SD and DJ in a shower stall pulling up their pants. Camp officials reported the incident to the Shreveport Police Department, which conducted an investigation. SD was examined by a hospital sexual assault nurse examiner, but no physical injuries were noted. SD gave a taped video statement indicating that DJ anally raped him. DJ was arrested for aggravated rape and adjudicated delinquent. CD, individually and as tutor of his son SD, filed a petition for damages, naming as defendants, SC (mother of DJ); Rock Solid Camps, LLC; and the State of Louisiana, through DHH. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this matter to consider whether the court of appeal erred by reducing the general damages awarded to SD, the minor victim of a sexual assault. After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court found the jury did not abuse its discretion in assessing the amount of general damages, and the court of appeal erred in holding otherwise. The trial court’s award of general damages was reinstated in accord with jury’s verdict. In all other respects, the court of appeal’s judgment was affirmed. View "C.D. v. S.C., et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants, the Congregation of Holy Cross Southern Province, Inc. and Holy Cross College, Inc. (collectively “Holy Cross”), challenged the constitutionality of 2021 La. Acts 322, §2 (“Act 322”), an enactment of the Louisiana legislature that amended La. R.S. 9:2800.9 and revived prescribed child sex abuse claims for a limited three-year period (sometimes referred to as “revival provision”). Plaintiff T.S. directly appealed the trial court’s judgment sustaining Holy Cross’s exception of prescription. In sustaining the exception, the trial court found the matter could not be resolved on non-constitutional grounds and declared Act 322, §2 unconstitutional, reasoning that the legislature lacked authority to revive a prescribed claim. After reviewing the record, along with the pertinent legislation, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in finding Act 322 unconstitutional when this matter could be resolved on non-constitutional, statutory grounds. Nevertheless, the Court found the trial court was correct in granting the exception of prescription. View "T.S. v. Congregation of Holy Cross Southern Province, et al." on Justia Law

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In July 2019, Plaintiffs Suzanne Farrell and her husband, Joseph Farrell, were traveling to Galveston, Texas, when they stopped to refuel at a Circle K Store in Pineville, Louisiana. While Mr. Farrell pumped gas, Mrs. Farrell decided to take their dog for a walk. She ultimately chose a grassy area located at the edge of the Circle K parking lot. In order to reach this area of grass, Mrs. Farrell had to traverse a pool of water. The water extended approximately the length of a tractor-trailer and was draining to the low spot of the parking lot. Mrs. Farrell walked to the narrowest part of the water—approximately one foot across— and attempted to step over the water. She was unsuccessful, and she fell and sustained personal injury. Mr. and Mrs. Farrell subsequently filed this personal injury lawsuit against Circle K and the City of Pineville. Defendants jointly moved for summary judgment, arguing that they were not liable on the ground that the alleged hazardous condition was open and obvious. Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that the hazard was not the pool of water, but the slippery substance hidden in the water, and that made the hazard not open and obvious. The trial court denied Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding “that there exist issues of material fact regarding whether a reasonable person should have seen the mold/mildew/algae/slime present in the water puddle at issue.” The Louisiana Supreme Court disagreed with the district court's decision, reversed and rendered judgment in favor of defendants. View "Farrell v. Circle K Stores, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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The district court awarded damages to plaintiff Lashondra Jones who was allegedly injured when she stepped on a wooden pallet with an attached pallet guard, holding a bulk watermelon bin, to reach a watermelon in the bottom of the bin, and the pallet guard collapsed. Defendant Market Basket Stores, Inc. appealed, and the appellate court reversed the award, finding manifest error in the factual findings of the district court requiring de novo review and concluding that the watermelon display did not present an unreasonable risk of harm to plaintiff. After review, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded there was no manifest error in the district court’s finding of negligence on the part of the defendant; therefore, the appellate court erred in its ruling. View "Jones v. Market Basket Stores, Inc." on Justia Law