Tag: Louisiana Civil Code

When a Settlement Is Not a Settlement

Louisiana law favors the settlement of disputes. With a settlement, both sides agree to avoid costly litigation and obtain a certain, negotiated result. While neither side is completely happy with the result in a typical settlement, the case is at least closed and the financial and emotional drain of litigation is ended. But the recent decision in  The Marietta Trust and The Warren Trust v. J.R. Logging, Inc., Fair Hills Farm, LLC, Jerry Avants, Jr., Thomas Keaty, Jr. and XYZ Insurance Company, 2016 CA 1136 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/11/17) shows what can happen when one of the parties change their mind. This case is important because it calls into question whether an exchange of emails is sufficient to reach a final settlement.

The Marietta Trust case involved a dispute regarding the wrongful cutting of timber and the parties seemingly came to a resolution.  Via email, the case was negotiated and the terms were agreed upon. Formal settlement documents were drawn up and money was exchanged.  However, when the time came to execute the final documents, one set of defendants refused to sign the paperwork. This refusal to sign came after the attorney for these defendants directly stated in an email that his “clients have agreed to the settlement.” Id. at *4. In response to the refusal to sign, the other parties filed a Joint Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement which was denied by the Trial Court.

Settlement agreements are governed by the Louisiana Civil Code art. 3071 which provides that litigation can be resolved via settlement or compromise.  A settlement agreement can take two forms: 1) recitation in open court; or 2) a writing.  “The purpose of the writing requirement is to serve as proof of the agreement and the acquiescence therein.”  Marietta Trust, 2016 CA 11336, Id. at *3. The writing must be signed by the parties or their agents.  “Until the parties sign a written document or documents evincing their consent to the terms of the proposed agreement, a party is free to change his or her mind.”  Id. at *3. Prior courts have found that emails meet the “writing” requirements. See, Geer v. BP America Production Co., 2014-450 (La. App. 3 Cir. 11/5/14), 150 So. 3d 621; Dozier v. Rhodus, 2008-1813 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/5/09), 17 So. 3d 402.

The appellate court in Marietta Trust  refused to enforce the “settlement.”  The court found that the exchange of emails was insufficient to meet the “writing” requirement of Civil Code article 3071 because neither the emails nor any other evidence showed that the attorney possessed “the express consent necessary to accept the terms of the settlement.” Id. at *3.

When is a settlement not a settlement? Maybe when it came to you through your inbox. So, if an email from the attorney is not sufficient to perfect a settlement, what can we do? The answer offered by the 1st Circuit is to either: 1. Recite in open court; or 2. Obtain a writing that includes the client’s express consent given to the attorney to settle the case (presumably for the amount in the writing).

“IME” Killer Bill Put Down

The Louisiana plaintiffs’ bar recently sought to tilt the scales of justice through Senate Bill 185, a bill seeking to complicate a defendant’s efforts to obtain an Independent Medical Examination (“IME”). An IME is an examination of the plaintiff by a physician or medical examiner hired by the defense. IMEs are important in the defense of a case and often act as a catalyst for settlement or to reduce the value of a claim.

Bill 185 was introduced by Senator Jay Luneau (D) and passed with a unanimous 35 – 0 vote in the Senate. The bill proposed amendments to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1464 to impose the following conditions upon IMEs:

  • All parties would be barred from referring to an IME as “independent” in the presence of a jury. 
  • A plaintiff could not be ordered to submit to multiple examinations by multiple physicians within the same field of specialty, regardless of the number of defendants. 
  • The party to be examined would have the right to have a person of his or her choosing present during the exam, including the plaintiff’s attorney.
  • The party to be examined would have the right not only to have the entire examination videotaped, but the ability to force the party requesting the examination to pay for all associated costs. 

Were these conditions enforced, many physicians might have chosen not to provide IMEs at all when the process would involve: a potentially adversarial plaintiff’s attorney; a patient room packed with video equipment; and, the spectacle of it all captured on tape. Further, the bill would have stifled the ability to defend injury claims.

We may never know what effect these changes might have brought. On May 16, 2017, the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee, involuntarily deferred on a 4-4 vote. This action effectively killed the bill and saved the IME as currently understood.

 

By: John Grinton, a Keogh Cox associate whose practice areas include commercial and construction litigation. When he is not practicing law, John spends most of his time with his wife, Kellye, and their two dogs.

Trees and Neighbors: A Growing Problem

Louisiana is a river delta state filled with fertile land and the refusal of its local fauna to stay within boundaries is a problem.  Trees create hazards. They also bring nuisance in all its forms––pine sap drizzled over a new car, an oak branch casting a sun-blocking shadow over the perfect tanning spot, and on and on. If you own the tree, the problem is easy enough to address; but what if the tree belongs to your neighbor? Can you cut your neighbor’s tree?

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