Category: Evidence

Court Grants Summary Judgment and Takes Stock of Evidence Needed to Support Merchant Liability Claims

In Hawkins v. Hi Nabor Supermarket, LLC, the First Circuit recently affirmed summary judgment in favor of Hi Nabor finding that Hi Nabor could not be liable to the plaintiff for injuries she allegedly sustained when she tripped and fell over a stocking cart while she was shopping in its store.^

The plaintiff claimed the stocking cart created an unreasonably dangerous condition that was foreseeable to the defendant. Hi Nabor filed a motion for summary judgment in response and attached affidavits of its employees, the store’s surveillance video of the incident, and excerpts of the plaintiff’s deposition.

The plaintiff failed to timely oppose Hi Nabor’s motion and then filed a motion for leave to file a late opposition. However, she did not attach or file any documents or exhibits in support of her opposition. The trial court granted Hi Nabor’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed the decision. On appeal, the plaintiff argued (1) summary judgment was granted “solely because an opposition was filed late” and (2) there was in sufficient proof that movers were entitled to judgment.

In response to the plaintiff’s first argument, the Court addressed the plaintiff’s failure to file an opposition to the defendants’ motion. See our prior blog for analysis of the impact of a party’s failure to timely oppose a motion for summary judgment here. The Court noted that a failure to timely oppose a motion for summary judgment does not automatically require that the motion be granted. However, if the mover meets its burden in its motion, and the plaintiff fails to file an opposition, the motion should be granted.

The court examined whether the defendant met its burden to support its motion in response to the plaintiff’s second argument. The Court found the defendant produced evidence to show that the stocking cart did not present an unreasonably dangerous condition such that liability could not attach.

The Court found that “stocking carts are necessary and useful in grocery stores to restock shelves, and that their common use and obviousness to a shopper make any risk slight.”* Further, surveillance video showed the size of the stocking cart (its’ tall sides were approximately the height of the plaintiff), the placement of caution cones around the stocking cart and the Plaintiff’s interactions with the cart prior to the accident.

In light of the evidence filed in support of its motion, the Court found Hi Nabor met its burden of proof to show that plaintiff could not establish the stocking cart presented an unreasonable risk of harm that was reasonably foreseeable. When the plaintiff failed to produce evidence to meet her burden of showing genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the cart presented an unreasonable risk of harm, summary judgment was properly granted. The Court’s decision highlights the importance of procedural requirements and reaffirms the principle that mere allegations of danger are insufficient and cannot defeat summary judgment without substantive proof.

References:

^Hawkins v. Hi Nabor Supermarket, LLC, 2023-0978 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2/23/24), 2024 WL 743080.

*Citing Russell v. Morgan’s Bestway of Louisiana, LLC, 47,914 (La. App. 2 Cir. 4/10/13), 113 So. 3d 448, 453.

Federal Jury Finds For Employer in ADA Case

In a case handled by our firm, a Lafayette-based global catering and life support client was sued by an employee based in Dubai for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The jury unanimously found that the employer (1) did not discriminate against the plaintiff because of a disability or (2) retaliate against him because he raised a complaint regarding the alleged discrimination.

The plaintiff had a written contract of employment with a one-year term that automatically renewed if he was not terminated. Upon the contract expiration date, the employer advised plaintiff that the contract would not be renewed for a successive term.

Plaintiff, an Army veteran, suffered from PTSD following his military service and deployment in Iraq.  He claimed defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his PTSD, which he claimed as a mental health disability. Plaintiff further claimed that defendant retaliated against him after he complained to his direct supervisor and the head of human resources about the alleged discrimination. To support his case, plaintiff claimed he was not disciplined before his termination and did not receive negative performance reviews during employment. Significant pre-trial motion practice occurred and framed the issues for trial in two ways.

First, the defense learned of actions taken by plaintiff following the termination of his employment that would have provided a legitimate basis for termination had the actions been discovered before he was terminated. The defense argued that evidence of such “after-acquired” misconduct was relevant to credibility and independently relevant to calculate backpay that plaintiff sought, citing McKennon v. Nashville Banner Pub. Co. and McClung v. Hajek. Over defendant’s objection, the Trial Court excluded the evidence as highly prejudicial, instead finding that back pay was an equitable remedy to be decided by the Court in a subsequent evidentiary hearing related to the issue of back pay.

Second, the defense argued that non-certified medical record evidence submitted by plaintiff was hearsay and thus inadmissible to prove a disability. The Court agreed with the defendant and issued a limiting instruction that the jury was not to consider uncertified medical records for the truth of the matter asserted.

At trial, our client presented ample evidence of plaintiff’s performance deficiencies with respect to the vetting of vendors, which jeopardized the employer’s government contracts and the jobs of other employees. The majority of plaintiff’s performance issues arose in Dubai, plaintiff’s key area of oversight. Therefore, it was unbelievable that he would not know of, or take responsibility for, those performance deficiencies. In addition, the language of the written employment contract allowed for non-renewal of the contract. In a unanimous verdict as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 48, the jury ultimately found that although the plaintiff proved he suffered a disability, he failed to prove discrimination or retaliation under the Act. 

References:

Staples v. Taylor International Services, Inc., et al., 6:20-cv-00192-RRS-CBW.

McKennon v. Nashville Banner Pub. Co., 513 U.S. 352, 361–62, 115 S. Ct. 879, 886, 130 L. Ed. 2d 852 (1995).

McClung v. Hajek, 79 F.3d 1145 (5th Cir. 1996).

Appliers Beware: Louisiana Federal Court Voids Insurance Policy, Denies First-Party Hurricane Claim

Many insurance policies contain a Concealment or Fraud provision that provides no coverage where the insured concealed or misrepresented any material fact or circumstance, engaged in fraudulent conduct, or made false statements related to the insurance.

But will a court enforce the Concealment or Fraud provision to deny an insured recovery on an otherwise covered peril? According to a recent decision out of the Eastern District of Louisiana, the answer is YES.

In Fahimipour v. United Property & Casualty Insurance Company, the plaintiffs sought contractual and extra-contractual damages from their insurance carrier for damages to their residential property allegedly sustained during Hurricane Zeta. After a bench trial, Judge Morgan concluded Plaintiffs’ application for insurance included a false statement made with knowledge of its falsity and voided the insurance policy from inception, in its entirety.

Citing Talbert v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., the Fahimipour court noted that “Under Louisiana law, an insurance policy is voided entirely and from its inception when the insured makes a material misrepresentation in the application for insurance with the intent to deceive the insurer.” The insurer must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the following elements in order to succeed on such a claim:

(1) the insured made a false statement;

(2) the false statement was material; and

(3) the false statement was made with intent to deceive.

With regard to the first factor, the Court found the insureds obtained and read an inspection report in connection with their purchase of the property. They “were concerned enough about the findings of the inspectors to contact their real estate agent” about the issues. The insureds represented in their insurance application that the property was well maintained, and free of damage, debris, and liability hazards, despite the extensive contradictory findings in the inspection report.

Regarding the second element, the carrier’s in-house expert testified that the insurer would not have bound coverage if the application contained the information from the inspection report. Therefore, the court found the insured’s false statements were material.

The third element – intent to deceive – “must be determined from the surrounding circumstances indicating the insured’s knowledge of the falsity of the representations made in the application and his recognition of the materiality of his representations, or from circumstances which create a reasonable assumption that the insured recognized the materiality.”

In finding the insurer established the third element, the Court noted the insureds were “sophisticated users of insurance.” Evidence showed the insureds previously purchased houses for renovation and resale, owned multiple properties, submitted insurance applications before, and also submitted claims for coverage on at least three prior occasions.

Ultimately, the Court denied plaintiffs any recovery for alleged hurricane damages because of the misrepresentations they made in their application for insurance coverage.

Prior to Fahimipour,Courts had found that post-loss misrepresentations may also void a policy. In Roach v. Allstate Indem. Co., 476 Fed. App’x 778, 779 (5th Cir. 2012), the plaintiff’s house was damaged in a fire. The Fifth Circuit upheld a summary judgment that voided the plaintiff’s policy after he submitted a falsified claim that included contents not located on inspection following a fire at the residence.

The policy at issue in Roach included a similar Concealment or Fraud provision that stated the policy would provide no coverage if the insured misrepresented any material fact before or after a loss. In granting summary judgment, the district court applied the same three factors used in the Fahimipour case to find the plaintiff made material misrepresentations in his personal property claim when he claimed items not located on inspection.

While the policy in Fahimipour was voided in part because the insureds were “sophisticated users of insurance,” it remains to be seen whether a Louisiana court will void coverage based on a similar provision brought by a less sophisticated insured under a different set of facts.

However, the Fahimipour and Roach decisions show that a court can void a policy, from its inception, because of an insured’s misrepresentations, whether they occur in connection with the application for the policy or after a loss. These rulings also suggest that Louisiana law recognizes an insured also has a reciprocal duty of good faith in its relationship with its insurer.

Case References: Behnaz Fahimipour, et al. v. United Property & Casualty Insurance Company, 2022 WL 16833693 (E.D. La. Nov. 9, 2022); Roach v. Allstate Indem. Co., 476 Fed. App’x 778, 779 (5th Cir. 2012); Talbert v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., 971 So.2d 1206 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2007).

When Buying a House with a Flooding History, Let the Buyer Beware

In Dunlap v. Empire Trading Group, LLC, the buyers of a home sued the seller and the seller’s real estate agent for fraud after the home flooded three times in the first year after they bought the home. The seller was a home-flipper who disclosed two prior flooding incidents, both of which occurred during the ten months the seller owned the home.

However, the plaintiffs later discovered the home had a substantial flooding history when they requested a flood insurance quote from the National Flood Insurance Program. The quote included a report that identified eighteen incidents of flooding and flood insurance claims at the property over the ten years before the plaintiffs purchased their home.

The plaintiffs argued the seller’s agent committed fraud because she concealed her knowledge of previous flood claims. The seller’s agent moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs could not prove that she knew about any of the prior undisclosed flooding incidents. The plaintiffs had no direct evidence to dispute the agent’s defense.

Instead, they argued that circumstantial evidence was sufficient to defeat the motion. They claimed that because the seller had a flood policy on the home, it also would have received the same flood claim history the plaintiffs received in connection with the same federal program. However, the plaintiffs had no evidence to show the seller, or anyone affiliated with the agent’s firm, actually received the flood claim history as they alleged.

Based upon these facts, the court agreed that without evidence that the seller’s agent actually received the flood claim history or otherwise had knowledge of it, the plaintiffs could not carry their burden of proving misrepresentation by the agent.

Case Reference: Dunlap v. Empire Trading Group, LLC, 2021-0180 (La. App. 1 Cir. 10/18/21), 331 So. 3d 932.

Louisiana Court Considers Defamation in Context of “New Media”

The country was recently captivated by the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial, arguably the most high-profile defamation case in recent history. Following a colorful trial, a Virginia jury found that a 2018 Washington Post op-ed by Heard defamed Depp. As a result, Depp was awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. At the same time, the jury awarded Heard $2 million dollars in compensatory damages for defamatory statements made by one of Depp’s attorneys, ostensibly on Depp’s behalf. The trial had millions of people asking a number of different questions, including the basic question “What is defamation?” Recent Louisiana cases such as Yanong v. Coleman, 53-933 (La. App. 2 Cir. 5/17/21), 317 So. 3d 905, 911, reh’g denied (June 24, 2021), writ denied, 21-01107 (La. 11/10/21), 326 So. 3d 1249 help to provide an answer.

As explained in Yanong, a party claiming defamation in Louisiana must prove four elements:

(1) a false and defamatory statement concerning another;

(2) an unprivileged publication to a third party;

(3) fault (negligence or greater) on the part of the publisher; and

(4) resulting injuries.

**To prove the third element of “fault,” malice must be shown.

The Yanong court explained that claims of defamation must be balanced against the right to free speech found in the state and federal Constitutions.

Louisiana recognizes two categories of defamatory words: (1) words that are defamatory per se and (2) words that are defamatory in meaning. Id. at 9. Words that are defamatory per se “expressly or implicitly accuse another of criminal conduct, or which by their very nature tend to injure one’s personal or professional reputation, without considering extrinsic facts or circumstances.” Id. When words are deemed defamatory per se, there is a presumption of fault on the part of the defendant that may be rebutted by showing that the statement was true or protected by a privilege such as fair commentary on a matter of public concern. Id. Words that are defamatory in meaning are words that, when taken in context, “a listener could have reasonably understood the communication to have been intended in a defamatory sense.” Id. at 9-10. Proof of words that are defamatory in meaning creates no presumption of fault.

Louisiana defamation suits frequently arise in the employment context. However, defamation claims in the employment context face obstacles. Such cases sometimes fail on the second element, publication to a third party, because “inter-corporate communications…[are] merely a communication of the corporation itself,” meaning an employer may need to communicate the alleged defamatory statement to an outside third party outside for it to be considered “published to a third party.” Cook v. Par. Of Jefferson, 2022 WL 19350, at *11 (E.D. La. Jan. 3, 2022). However, defamation claims do not always fail on the publication element and they are not limited to “A-list” celebrities or multi-million dollar cases.

In Yanong, the Louisiana Second Circuit affirmed a $15,000 compensatory damage award to a plaintiff who successfully proved that statements made by defendants on a podcast show and on Facebook were defamation per se. Yanong, p. 8. Under the facts of the case, the defendants on a live “podcast” expressed on multiple occasions their belief that the plaintiff was a victim of sex-trafficking and that she was purchased by her much-older husband. Id. at 1. The defendant(s) also labeled the plaintiff’s marriage as “legalized prostitution,” and stated that they had contacted foreign authorities to inform them the plaintiff was a victim of “trafficking.” Id. at 2. The statements continued onto social media, where one defendant insinuated the plaintiff’s husband purchased her from a catalogue or an internet matchmaking site. Id.

On appeal, the defendants argued the plaintiff did not prove the publication element of her case. Id. at 5. The appellate court found this contention meritless. The defendants “were fully aware they were engaging” in communications with third parties, they were recoding a podcast, were “shown onscreen on all the broadcasts,” and made comments that showed “they were aware that they had an audience and third parties were engaged in the interactive broadcast.” Id. at 17-19. Thus, the Second Circuit found Plaintiff met her burden on the publication element and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. Id. at. 20.

While the publication element can present a hurdle in some cases, the publication need not be in a national media source as featured in the Depp-Heard case. The Yanong decision reminds that statements made on social media and podcasts can meet the required standard.

A Decade Old Article Finds New Life: Televised Testimony – Keogh Cox.

Louisiana Court Limits Use of Biomechanical Expert Testimony

The use of biomechanical expert testimony in Louisiana courts has evolved over the last few years. A recent decision from the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal provides an example of the changing standards for the admissibility of biomechanical expert testimony and its relation to medical causation.

In Pollard v. 21st Century Centennial Ins. Co., 21-65 (La. App. 5 Cir. 12/23/21), 334 So. 3d 1013, writ denied, 2022-00163 (La. 4/20/22), the defendants argued that the underlying accident involved a minor rear-end impact not likely to cause injury. The defendants hired a biomechanical expert who was also a medical doctor. The expert performed an “impact severity analysis” to determine the force of impact in the collision.

The expert concluded that the accident involved a minimum damage collision; he relied upon the “force reflection method” and test data at his crash test facility to determine how fast the rear-ending vehicle would have traveled to cause the damage present on the plaintiff’s vehicle. Based upon his findings, the expert opined that the plaintiff was not seriously injured in the collision. He went further to testify that specific injuries could not have been caused by the forces involved.

The Fifth Circuit noted the same expert was previously excluded in a case that went to the Louisiana Supreme Court in Blair v. Coney, 2019-00795 (La. 4/3/20), reh’g denied, 2019-00795 (La. 7/9/20), 298 So. 3d 168, where the Court found the expert’s testimony to be based upon insufficient facts or data. In Blair, the Supreme Court found the expert’s testimony should be excluded because he did not (1) inspect either vehicle involved in the collision; (2) speak with the damage appraisers; (3) know the plaintiff’s body position at the time of the accident; (4) inspect plaintiff’s vehicle for variance from the test-vehicle or (5) interview the plaintiff.  Thus, his testimony failed to meet the requirements of C.E. art. 702(A)(2). 

Citing the Blair decision, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit in Pollard concluded that the expert “relied on the same [improper] methodology in reaching his conclusions.” Therefore, the appellate court found the trial court erred in denying a motion in limine to exclude the expert’s testimony. Although the expert cited to peer-reviewed literature to support his conclusions, the evidence revealed that “most of the research and articles” he cited were either written by him or one of his employees.

Effective January 1, 2021, Louisiana amended La. R.S. 32.295.1, which now allows the admission of a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt as a factor to be considered in comparative fault. Defendants will seek to use biomechanical experts to prove that the failure to use a seatbelt substantially caused or contributed to the damages.

Biomechanical testimony may be allowed. However, as shown in Pollard, biomechanical opinions which lack sufficient inquiry to match the analysis to the real-world impact will be treated with skepticism. Taking Blair and Pollard together, the courts appear to resist expert biomechanical opinions which seek to definitively resolve medical causation which often involves subjective elements and credibility determinations reserved for the trier of fact.

It is certain that defendants will continue to advance the “low impact” argument because force-of-impact testimony is a relevant factor in determining causation or extent of injuries. See, e.g., Merrells v. State Farm Mutual Auto, Ins. Co., 33-404 (La. App. 2 Cir. 6/21/00), 764 So. 2d 1182. What is less than certain is the role of the biomechanical expert. Following the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Pollard, the Louisiana Supreme court denied the defendant’s writ application 4 to 3, with all three dissenters advising they would have granted the writ. Issues surrounding the use and scope of testimony from biomechanical experts appear far from settled.

Summary Judgment Dismissing Unwitnessed Workers’ Comp Accident Affirmed: No Corroborating Evidence

The recent decision in Gibson v. Wal-Mart Louisiana, LLC, 20-0033 (La. App. 4 Cir. 8/27/20), 2020 WL 507804 re-affirms that a workers’ compensation claim based on an unwitnessed accident is subject to pretrial dismissal where there is no corroborating evidence.

In Gibson, the plaintiff, a department manager for Walmart, claimed injury while picking up boxes. Although no one witnessed the incident, the plaintiff claimed that two managers working nearby were made aware of the accident and injuries almost immediately.

Walmart denied the claim in response to numerous “red flags.” For example, the two managers identified by the claimant denied any knowledge. Also, the first reference in a medical record to the alleged June accident came in mid-October.

Walmart filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that plaintiff did not satisfy her evidentiary burden. In response, Gibson countered that the conflict between her testimony, the co-workers’ testimony, and the medical records created genuine issues of material fact to be decided at trial. The OWC trial court granted summary judgment and the plaintiff appealed.

In affirming the dismissal, the Fourth Circuit Court determined that Gibson’s testimony, standing alone, did not create a genuine issue of material fact. The general rule regarding unwitnessed accidents in worker’s compensation cases is well defined. Under this rule, an employee may prove by his or her testimony alone that an unwitnessed accident occurred only if the employee can establish that: (1) no other evidence discredits or casts serious doubt upon the worker’s version of the incident; and (2) the worker’s testimony is corroborated by the circumstances following the alleged incident. Ardoin v. Firestone Polymers, L.L.C., 10-0245 (La. 1/19/11), 56 So. 3d 215, 218.

Because evidence such as the delay in medical treatment raised doubt and Gibson lacked other corroboration, the dismissal of her claim was upheld. Gibson reminds that questionable unwitnessed accident claims without corroborating evidence can and should be dismissed via pretrial motion, notwithstanding the “relaxed rules of evidence and procedure” in workers’ compensation courts.


Ed Stauss is a partner with Keogh Cox. His practice relates mainly to workers compensation defense and the subrogation recovery. Ed is an avid and long time fan of the professional and major college sports teams in the area. He also enjoys running year-round, from 2 milers & 5Ks in the spring and summer to half marathons and full marathons in the fall and winter.

Premises Liability: Defense Summary Judgment in an Accident Involving Rolling Chair

A recent decision from the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal re-affirms the merchant liability rules.  In Carolyn R. Miller and Steven Rathjen v. Willis Communications, et. al., 19-787 (La. App. 3 Cir. 6/24/20), the plaintiff was an elderly patron of an AT&T store.  Plaintiff and her daughter were assisted at the customer service desk, and plaintiff took a seat in a rolling chair.  When she attempted to stand up, the rolling chair moved, and she fell to the floor breaking a hip.

Plaintiff filed suit under the merchant’s liability statute, La. R.S. 9:2800.6.  Per the statute, if a negligence claim is brought against a merchant by a person lawfully on the merchant’s premises for injuries sustained because of a fall, then plaintiff must prove: 1) that the condition of the merchant’s premises presented an unreasonable risk of harm that was reasonably foreseeable; 2) that the merchant created the risk or had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition; and 3) that the merchant failed to exercise reasonable care to address the unreasonable risk of harm.  Plaintiff argued that an unreasonable risk of harm was created when she was given a chair on rollers on flooring allegedly unsafe for use with a rolling chair.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court.  The appellate court reversed and entered summary judgment.  The appellate court found that the critical element of plaintiff’s burden of proof was missing – any defect in the rolling chair.  Plaintiff admitted that the chair was not defective.  Instead, she argued that she should not have been given a rolling chair to sit in because of her age, obvious mobility issues, and because the rolling chair was unsafe on the flooring of the store. 

Evidence was presented that: 1) plaintiff’s daughter was able to maneuver the rolling chair without incident; 2) the daughter did not believe that plaintiff would have trouble navigating the rolling chair; and 3) no other customer had ever fallen out of one of the rolling chairs.  Simply, what occurred at the AT&T store was an accident, for which AT&T and its employees were not responsible.  Plaintiff, well aware of her own physical limitations, chose to sit in a rolling chair that she physically was unable to get out of on her own.  Based upon this evidence, the court reasoned that plaintiff did not prove that: 1) the rolling chair posed an unreasonable risk of harm; or 2) the merchant possessed actual or constructive knowledge of any defect.

Following decisions which imposed harsh standards upon retailers, the Louisiana Legislature adopted the merchant’s liability statute to limit recovery to cases involving true negligence.  The Carolyn R. Miller decision demonstrates that the statute is properly used in motion practice to resolve cases where the merchant lacks advance knowledge of the claimed unreasonable risk. Sometimes, an accident is just an accident.


Virginia “Jenny” McLin is a partner at Keogh Cox who practices in the fields of corporate litigation, insurance defense and workers compensation defense.  When she is not practicing law, Jenny can be found volunteering with the Junior League of Baton Rouge; cheering for the LSU Tigers with her husband Ryan; or shuffling her two kids to and from dance practice.

“Constructive Knowledge” in Slip and Fall Suits: Time on Your Side

Louisiana’s “slip and fall” statute La. R.S. 9:2800.6 was enacted in response to an elevated burden of proof imposed upon retailers.  To recover, a patron must prove both the existence of an unreasonably dangerous condition and that the merchant created or possessed actual or constructive knowledge of the condition.  Two recent Louisiana decisions demonstrate that the plaintiff’s burden to show knowledge is often difficult to meet.

In Fountain v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 19-669 (La. App. 3 Cir. 3/18/20), 2020 WL 1307417, Fountain entered the store while it was raining.  After shopping for 30 to 40 minutes, he visited the Garden Center and fell in a puddle of water he estimated as 8 inches by a foot and a half.  There was no direct evidence Wal-Mart was aware of the alleged defect.  Without actual knowledge, Fountain possessed the burden to demonstrate “constructive notice.”  To prove constructive notice, the plaintiff must come forward with “positive evidence showing that the damage-causing condition existed for some period to time, and that such time was sufficient to place the merchant defendant on notice of its existence.”  Under case facts, the trial court determined that Fountain had not demonstrated this “temporal” element and dismissed the case on motion practice.  The dismissal was upheld by the Louisiana Third Circuit.

In Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment, Fountain made a three-fold argument.  First, he alleged that a Wal-Mart employee told him that the water on the floor came from a lady who shook a broken umbrella in the area.  The court held that Fountain’s self-serving testimony and reliance upon a hearsay statement was insufficient to establish notice. 

Next, Fountain alleged that a manager’s testimony that a large amount of water was found in the general area showed that Wal-Mart “knew or should have known.” Nevertheless, there was no evidence as to how long the water had existed on the floor. 

Finally, Fountain cited to video surveillance showing that numerous persons could have tracked water into the area.  Distinguishing cases where employees had worked in the precise area of the hazard, the Fountain court stated “our de novo review of the record reveals Mr. Fountain failed to present evidence as to length of time the puddle was on the floor prior to the accident.  Therefore, he did not carry his burden of proving that Wal-Mart had constructive knowledge of the condition.”

Similarly, in Bryant v. Ray Brandt Dodge, Inc., 19-464 (La. App. 5 Cir. 3/17/20), 2020 WL 1270963, summary judgment was upheld where the plaintiff lacked positive evidence of how long the condition (a few spots of water) existed prior to the accident.  The plaintiff argued that an employee who used the restroom approximately five minutes before was the most likely cause of the alleged hazard. However, this argument was rejected as “mere speculation.”

In these cases, whether an unreasonably dangerous condition is present is a critical issue.  However, as seen in Bryant and Fountain, how long the condition existed is sometimes just important.  In many cases, time is not on the plaintiff’s side.


Tori works toward efficient, cost-effective resolution strategies, whether in or out of the courtroom.  When she is not in the office or in a courtroom, she can be found with her husband and two kids at ballfields, ballet recitals or her local church.

Google Earth Images Ruled Admissible

Recently, a Louisiana appellate court found that images from Google Earth images were admissible.   In Walker v. S.G.B.C., LLC, 2019-506 (La.App. 3Cir. 2/5/20); — So.3d —, 2020 WL 563818, the Louisiana Third Circuit rejected a challenge to the use of the images on the basis that they were not properly authenticated. 

In this case, the plaintiff sought recognition of a historical servitude of passage from his landlocked property. During the trial, the plaintiff offered Google Earth images of the property to show a gravel pathway on the alleged right of way. The images were dated January 2004, November 2005, and December 2017.  Multiple witnesses identified the path on the images. Thereafter, the trial court admitted the images into evidence over the defendant’s objections.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the images were not properly authenticated under La. C.E. art. 901 because the plaintiff did not: (1) have the creator of the images testify to their authenticity; (2) get a certification from Google that the images were what they purported to be; and (3) have an expert testify that the images were accurate depictions of what they claimed to be.

The Walker court affirmed the trial court ruling that these images were admissible. Louisiana Code of Evidence Article 901(B)(1) provides the testimony of a witness with personal knowledge may supply the authentication of evidence required for its admission. Because the plaintiff identified various landmarks on each image, and each image was subsequently recognized by multiple witnesses (including the defendant’s witnesses), the Court concluded there was sufficient support for finding the images authentic.

In Walker, the precise dates the photographs were taken were not critical. Under different facts, courts may choose to apply the authentication rules of Article 901 more stringently.


Chris Jones is a partner with Keogh Cox in Baton Rouge, LA.  He focuses his practice on class actions and mass torts, and handles these matters in courts throughout the country.  He is a life-long resident of Baton Rouge, where he lives with his wife and four children.

Black Boxes: The Secrets Your Vehicle Keeps

By Brian Butler

Many do not realize modern vehicles are always ready to record critical driving information. As with airplanes, most passenger vehicles are now equipped with Event Data Recorders (EDR), or “Black Boxes.” This information may be critical after an accident to show what happened, and who was at fault.

EDRs may record pre-event data for five seconds before and one second after an accident, possibly including vehicle speed, engine speed, percent throttle, change in velocity, and whether the brakes were applied. The make and model of the vehicle will determine what data is available. If you want this data, you must act quickly because it will be “overwritten” at some point if the vehicle continues in use.

It is also important to retain a competent expert to download the data. In Laborde v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., 82 So. 3rd 1237 (La. 3/9/2011), the trial court excluded the printout of data downloaded from a Black Box because of the boxes “chain of custody” and the method the information downloaded.  It is important that your legal team knows how to obtain and preserve this evidence.

Data from Black Boxes can be useful in many ways. In some cases, it may help to prove that the accident involved a low impact or to show that no brakes were applied. In other cases, it may harm your position, but the data is almost always relevant. There are costs in downloading and interpreting the data. But in the right case, the secrets kept in the Black Box may be the only way to reveal the truth.

Brian has been doing defense work for the last 28 years. He has handled all types of defense matters over his career, but in recent years his practice has been focused in serious injury or damage cases and has worked extensively with experts involving complex cases, fire cases, and forensic work. 

“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.