Louisiana Appellate Court Upholds Dismissal of Bar in Fatal Crash Involving Drunk Driver

Automobile accidents are common in Louisiana, but for many victims, navigating the legal process and understanding how to protect your rights can be daunting. Seeking counsel from a seasoned Baton Rouge car accident lawyer can help you ensure that you receive the outcome that you deserve.

A recent Louisiana appellate opinion demonstrates how easily complexities arise in car accident cases. The facts of the case are as follows. The first motorist was driving southbound on Highway 52, followed by the second motorist. The second motorist attempted to make a left turn when a police cruiser driven by an officer entered the southbound lane and struck the first motorist’s vehicle head-on. The officer died as a result of the accident, and the first motorist suffered serious injuries. Evidence in the record showed that the second motorist had been drinking alcoholic beverages before being ejected from a local bar and that he was driving while under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. The record also showed that the officer was acting in the course and scope of employment when the crash happened.

The first motorist filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the sheriff and his insurance company. He also named the second motorist as a defendant, along with his insurance company. Shortly after filing his complaint, the plaintiff added a claim against the bar that had been serving the second motorist and its insurer. The plaintiff alleged that the bar should have known that the second motorist was likely to drive while intoxicated and that the bar engaged in spoliation of evidence by erasing surveillance footage from the day that the accident occurred.

The bar’s insurance company filed a motion seeking a declaration that the terms of its insurance policy did not require it to indemnify the bar because the incident took place on a highway, rather than on the insured premises. The bar eventually filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and that it could not be held liable. It also rejected the allegations of spoliation of evidence. The trial court granted both motions, thereby dismissing the bar, its insurance company, and the bar owner from the lawsuit.

The plaintiff and the remaining defendants filed an appeal, arguing that material facts regarding liability and causation remained and that it was not appropriate for the lower court to grant the motions for summary judgment. In reviewing the record, the appellate court concluded that the lower court did not commit a reversible error in concluding that the bar was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The appellate court referred to Louisiana’s reverse dram-shop provision, La. R.S. 9:2800.1, which provides immunity to a bar owner for tortious acts that a patron may commit, provided the bar owner satisfies certain criteria. The bar owner must hold an appropriate permit and sell only to persons who are of legal age to consume alcohol, and the resulting injury must have occurred away from the premises and as a result of the intoxicated person’s actions.

The appellate court also concluded that the lower court properly dismissed the spoliation of evidence claim because Louisiana law requires the plaintiff to show that the spoliation was intentional. Here, the plaintiff had only alleged that the conduct resulting in spoliation of evidence was negligent.

If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, you may be entitled to compensation. At Dué Guidry Piedrahita Andrews Courrege L.C., we specialize in providing our clients with the vigorous, attentive, and personalized legal counsel that they deserve. Navigating the legal process can cause serious headaches, especially if you are already coping with painful injuries and other inconveniences. We offer a free consultation so that you can learn more about your legal rights and how we can assist you. Call us now at (225) 929-7481 or contact us online to get started.

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