Articles Posted in Louisiana Personal Injury Law

In the recent appellate court decision of Marable v. Empire Truck Sales of Louisiana, LLC, 2016-0867 (La. App. 4 Cir. 6/23/17), the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a $50 million general damage award in a products liability case for a 69 year-old plaintiff who suffered anoxic brain injury and other permanently disabling injuries requiring 24-hour care.  Plaintiff was injured when she lost her footing and became pinned underneath the two rear tires of an over-the-road tractor while running alongside the moving tractor attempting to turn the ignition key to shut off its engine.  After a six-day trial, the jury returned a verdict finding the manufacturer of the tractor 90% at fault for the unreasonably dangerous design of the tractor, which was a proximate cause of the accident.  The jury awarded nearly $11,500,000 for past and future medical expenses and $10,000,000 for past and future physical pain and suffering, $10,000,000 for past and future mental pain and suffering, $10,000,000 for past and future loss of enjoyment of life, and $10,000,000 for scarring and disfigurement.  The total verdict was for $51,448,174.77.

The manufacturer appealed, alleging that pursuant to La.R.S. 9:2800.56 of the Louisiana Product Liability Act (LPLA) the plaintiff had failed to prove: (a) that the tractor’s design was unreasonably dangerous because she presented no evidence that the manufacturer could have foreseen the accident, and (b) that the tractor’s design proximately caused her accident.

The court of appeal agreed with the jury’s finding that at the time of the accident, the plaintiff’s husband was performing the required pre-inspection of his tractor before leaving on his trip.  As specifically instructed to do in the manufacturer’s driver’s manual, the engine of the tractor was running while he was checking safety features on the outside of the vehicle.  The tractor was defective in design because it was not equipped with dual brakes on the rear drive axles – which were available and routinely used by the manufacturer on other models and would have stopped the tractor from moving suddenly, ultimately preventing this accident.

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In a recent opinion from the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, the plaintiff appealed a judgment from a trial court granting summary judgment on behalf of the defendant, a daycare center.  The plaintiff filed suit against the daycare center after she suffered an accident while picking up her minor son. The plaintiff was 32 weeks pregnant at the time the incident occurred. As the plaintiff was exiting the building, she was carrying her 18-month-old son and using her cell phone when she fell down stairs located at the entrance of the building. According to her petition for damages, her injuries included a fractured tibia and fibula. Her older child experienced bruising and a broken clavicle. Although no one witnessed the accident, people soon arrived to assist the plaintiff, and she was taken to the hospital.

In her petition, the plaintiff sought damages from the daycare center claiming that it was liable for failing to warn her of the dangerous nature of the stairs and for allowing the defective stairway to persist on its premises. In response to these allegations, the daycare center alleged that the plaintiff was comparatively at fault and that her decision against using the handrail while talking on the phone and holding her baby was the cause of her injuries.

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In a recent appellate opinion, the liability of a City and a miniature train ride operator was considered.  In May 2006, a local school program conducted a field trip for students and faculty at a park. A local miniature train company donated free rides to the children and chaperones. At approximately 1 p.m., the plaintiffs, who were chaperones working for the school, in addition to two other adults, boarded one of the train compartments. When the train approached the first curve, the conductor stated that he observed a jiggling sensation. He looked over his shoulder just in time to observe one of the cars tipping over. The conductor stopped the train, but both cars had tipped over while the locomotive remained on the tracks. The passengers in the cars were thrust into a fence that bordered the train track.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit for damages against the train company. The school filed a motion to intervene, seeking reimbursement for workers’ compensation benefits they allegedly paid to the plaintiffs. In response, the train company filed a cross-claim against the City, claiming that the City failed to provide an appropriate defense and should be required to indemnify the company if it is found liable for the plaintiffs’ damages.

During the first bench trial, which is a trial that does not include a jury, the plaintiffs testified that they did not act or contribute in any way to the accident. The plaintiffs also introduced two inspection reports for the tracks, one issued six months before the accident and the other issued a number of weeks prior to the accident. In general, the reports indicated that some of the rail tiles were “loose and rotten,” in addition to other maintenance issues. The plaintiffs also offered the testimony of the owner of the railroad operation, who stated that it was the City’s responsibility to maintain the track and to perform repairs. The City offered evidence in an attempt to refute that it was responsible for the routine maintenance and inspection of the train and the railroad tracks.

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Medical malpractice claims governed by the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act originate with the filing of a request for review of the medical malpractice claim by a Medical Review Panel. The request for review must be filed with the Louisiana Division of Administration and shall contain, at a minimum, all of the following:

(i) A request for the formation of a medical review panel.

(ii) The name of only one patient for whom, or on whose behalf, the request for review is being filed; however, if the claim involves the care of a pregnant mother and her unborn child, then naming the mother as the patient shall be sufficient.

Super Lawyers 2016 selected every member (Kirk A. Guidry, Randy A. Piedrahita and B. Scott Andrews) of the Baton Rouge, Louisiana personal injury law firm of Dué Guidry Piedrahita Andrews L.C. for inclusion in the 2016 Louisiana Super Lawyers list in the practice area of Personal Injury.

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.

Dué Guidry Piedrahita Andrews L.C. and all firm members also enjoy the prestigious AV Rating from Martindale-Hubbell and have been recognized by Best Lawyers® and U.S. News – Best Law Firms®.

Congratulations to our newly elected Governor – John Bel Edwards!!

As a faithful husband, dedicated father, unwavering public servant, proud veteran, humble man of religion, and small business owner, John Bel Edwards will be a Governor who will finally put Louisiana families and Louisiana workers first and get us back on the right track after eight years of failing policies.

The campaign released the following statement: “We won because of you. Thank you for voting to put Louisiana first. You believed in our campaign to bring honor and integrity back to the state of Louisiana. My campaign slogan has been ‘put Louisiana first’ from the start, and that is exactly what I plan to do for the next four years. To me, that has always meant bringing our people together, regardless of party, to celebrate the things that make our state strong and solve our greatest problems. I promise you tonight that I will always do what is best for all Louisianians — for our children, our veterans, our senior citizens. I believe Louisiana is worth fighting for. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead our state. Louisiana’s future doesn’t belong to a political party — it belongs to all of us. I will work every day to make you proud of your vote and of your state.”

Bufkin v. Felipe’s Louisiana, LLC, 2014-0288 (La.10/15/14), with Justice Hughes writing for the Louisiana Supreme Court, granted summary judgment in favor of a contractor because the contractor owed no duty to warn of the obstruction presented to pedestrians by a pick-up sized dumpster, a large inanimate object visible to all, placed on the sidewalk. The allegedly dangerous or defective condition was obvious and apparent, or stated differently, was open and obvious to everyone who may potentially encounter it.

The plaintiff was walking down the sidewalk when he encountered a dumpster obstructing the sidewalk that the plaintiff had known was present for more than four months. Before crossing the one-way street, the plaintiff looked in the direction of oncoming traffic, but failed to look in the opposite direction past the dumpster. While crossing the street, the plaintiff was hit by a bicycle traveling in the wrong direction on the one-way street.

The specific issue before the Louisiana Supreme Court was whether the sidewalk condition, created by the contractor’s allegedly insufficient posted warnings and the placement of the large curbside dumpster, produced a vision obstruction for pedestrians crossing the street at that location that was unreasonably dangerous, and, if so, whether the contractor owed a duty to place additional warnings on its signage and/or to construct a buffer zone that would mitigate against any vision obstruction created.

The Louisiana Supreme Court held that the evidence presented by the contractor on motion for summary judgment established that any vision obstruction caused by the dumpster to a pedestrian crossing the street was obvious and apparent and reasonably safe for persons exercising ordinary care and prudence. The Court further reasoned that the size of the dumpster was comparable to a pick-up truck and was the type of situation any pedestrian might encounter on a regular basis.

Once the contractor demonstrated that the plaintiff would be unable to prove that a duty was owed to him by the contractor, the burden shifted to the plaintiff to demonstrate that he would be able to meet that burden at trial. The plaintiff failed to produce any affidavit, deposition, or other evidence admissible on motion for summary judgment to show that the contractor did have a duty to warn pedestrians of the obstruction or take extra measures to aid pedestrians to see around the obstruction.
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The Louisiana Supreme Court held that a patient has (1) an implied private right of action for damages against a health care provider under the Health Care and Consumer Billing and Disclosure Protection Act, La. R.S. 22:1871, et seq., “Balance Billing Act”); and (2) an express direct right of action under La. R.S. 22:1874(B) based on the assertion of a statutory medical lien in accordance with La. R.S. 9:4752. Yana Anderson v. Ochsner Health System and Ochsner Clinic Foundation, 2013-2970 (La. 7/1/14).

La.R.S. 22:1874, in pertinent part, prohibits a health care provider from collecting or attempting to collect amounts from an insured patient in excess of the contracted reimbursement rate. The title of the Act, La. R.S. 22:1871, et seq., is the “Health Care Consumer Billing and Disclosure Protection Act.” While it is silent as to a private cause of action for violations of the Balance Billing Act, this language makes clear that the legislature enacted this statutory scheme with protection of the consumer in mind. The Louisiana Supreme Court reasoned that it is difficult to envision a law denying recourse to individuals when that law’s principle aim is individual protection. Further, the Supreme Court found that when taken as a whole, the Balance Billing Act reveals an intent to make the burden on the violator more onerous, not less. The Supreme Court concluded that: “it would be incongruent to rule that a law intended to punish violators and protect consumers would operate in a manner that prohibits an individual’s access to the courts to redress the very violation that is proscribed.”

The Supreme Court also held that the La.R.S. 22:1874 provides an express direct right of action against a healthcare provider who attempts to balance bill by assertion of a medical lien on a patient tort recovery in accordance with La. R.S. 9:4752, which allows for a “medical lien” in favor of health care providers who provide services to an “injured person.”

In Anderson, a personal injury automobile accident victim who was insured by UnitedHealthcare, received medical treatment at an Ochsner facility. Pursuant to a member provider agreement, UnitedHealthcare contracted with Ochsner to secure discounted charges or healthcare rates for its insureds. Despite its contractual agreement with UnitedHealthcare, Ochsner refused to file a claim with the patient’s health insurer. Instead, Ochsner sent a letter to the patient’s personal injury attorney, asserting a statutory medical lien for the full amount of undiscounted charges on any tort recovery the patient received for the underlying automobile accident. The patient filed a putative class action suit against Ochsner for its statutorily prohibited conduct.
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While insurance policies are executed for the benefit of all injured persons, such protection is limited by the terms and limits of the policy. On July 1, 2014, the Louisiana Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision, held that the reporting provision in a claims-made-and-reported policy is a permissible “term and limit” on the insurer’s liability as to third parties and does not violate the Louisiana Direct Action Statute, La.R.S. 22:1269, which affords a victim the right to sue the insurer directly when a liability policy covers a certain risk. Joyce Gorman v. City of Opelousas, 2013-1734 (La.7/1/14). Under a claims-made-and-reported policy, the event and peril insured against is based on making and reporting of the claim within the period specified by the policy.

In Gorman, a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit arising out of a wrongful act that occurred in September 2009 was timely filed against the City of Opelousas in September 2010. After discovering the identity of the City’s liability insurer in discovery, the plaintiff filed an amended petition for damages in September 2011, naming Lexington Insurance Company as a defendant pursuant to the Louisiana Direct Action Statute. The Lexington liability insurance policy at issue was effective from April 17, 2010 – April 17, 2011, and had a retroactive date of April 17, 2005. The pertinent terms of the policy obligated Lexington to pay claims on behalf of the City if three conditions occur:

1) the wrongful act occurs on or after the retroactive date of the policy, but before the end of the policy period – (this condition was met);
2) the claim for the wrongful act is first made against the City during the policy period – (this condition was met); and 3) the claim is reported to Lexington in writing during the policy period (this condition was not met because the CIty failed to notify Lexington of the claim).

The majority held that the City’s Lexington insurance policy was not effective because the claim had not been reported to Lexington within the applicable policy period. Brushing aside the harsh penalty faced by the City’s personal injury and wrongful death victim due to the City’s blatant failure to timely notify its insurer of the pending claim, the majority reasoned as follows:

We recognize that an injured third party rarely has knowledge of the identity of the insurer of the party responsible for an injury, making it nearly impossible for an injured third party to give notice to the insurer. Rather, the injured third party generally has to rely on the insured, which has an interest in ensuring the availability of the coverage it purchased, to comply with the reporting provision in its policy. Although we can contemplate no logical reason why the City would not report a claim for which it apparently purchased insurance coverage, we decline, under the facts of this case, to hold the insurer liable for the City’s failure to report the claim as required by the Lexington policy. A contrary finding would, where there is no evidence of fraud or collusion, punish the insurer for the inactions of its insured.

The three dissenters did not believe that a claims-made insurer should be able to raise, in an action by the victim of the insured’s tort, the defense of a non-prejudicial failure of the timely notified insured to give notice to the insurer during the policy period. The dissenters believed that the notice provision was not a “term and limit” of the policy and believed that a third party victim, who is denied coverage under a claims-made policy because the timely notified insured failed to notify the insurer timely, should be able to resort to the public policy provisions of the Direct Action statute to obtain coverage. The notice requirement conflicts with the public policy and intent of the Direct Action statute and effectively restricts the vested rights of injured parties by allowing coverage to be defeated in an otherwise timely and valid claim when an insured without good cause blatantly fails to give notice to its insurer:

The provision in the Direct Action statute prohibiting compliance with terms and limits “in violation of the laws of this State” likewise restricts the ability of the contracting parties to limit the tort victim’s right of action against the insurer. Here, the notice requirement coupled with the insured’s blatant and unjustified failure to provide notice would not only limit, but effectively destroy the tort victim’s right of action in an otherwise timely filed suit, and as such, it should be void as against the public policy provisions of our Direct Action statute.

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