Category: Injury

MVA Plaintiffs Sentenced by Federal Judge for Staging Accidents

The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently announced that two defendants, Doniesha Gibson and Erica Lee, had been sentenced for crimes related to staging automobile collisions with tractor-trailers. The sentences were announced as part of a criminal investigations known as “Operation Sideswipe.” The years-long operation has produced multiple pleas and convictions, including a guilty plea from an involved attorney last year.

Gibson admitted that she was a passenger in a staged accident that occurred on October 15, 2015. A co-defendant intentionally drove the vehicle she occupied into a bus on the interstate. Gibson retained an attorney and filed a suit for damages. Claims related to this accident later settled for $667,500.00

Lee also admitted to filing a suit to claim injuries after the driver of the vehicle she occupied intentionally crashed into a tractor trailer on September 6, 2017. The claims for this suit settled for $30,000.00

United States District Judge Sarah S. Vance sentenced Gibson to 17 months incarceration plus 3 years of supervised release and ordered Gibson to pay restitution in the amount of the settlement. Lee was sentenced to serve 3 years of probation and 100 hours of community service. She was also ordered to pay restitution.

While “Operation Sideswipe” did not involve the typical claimants, it reminds of the need for vigilance in assessing accident claims.

Supreme Court Abrogates Louisiana’s “Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine”

Historically, Louisiana law provided that a professional rescuer injured in the performance of his or her duties “assumes the risk” of an injury and is not entitled to damages. See Worley v. Winston, 550 So.2d 694, 696 (La. App. 2 Cir.), writ denied, 551 So.2d 1342 (La. 1989). This is known as the Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine and applied as a defense to claims raised by firefighters, policeman, and others. The doctrine prevented recovery because the professional rescuer “assumed the risk” of injury. Recently, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Doe v. McKesson, 2021-00929 (La. 3/25/22) rejected the doctrine as a bar to suit by the professional rescuer.

In Doe, the Supreme Court of Louisiana accepted a certified question from the Fifth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals as to the viability of the doctrine. In response, the Supreme Court held that the Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine has been abrogated in Louisiana both legislatively under La. C.C. art. 2323 and jurisprudentially in Murray v. Ramada Inns, Inc., 521 So.2d 1123, 1132 (La. 1988).

The Court cited La. C.C. art. 2323(A), which provides that the fault of “all persons […] shall be determined” in a civil action. Subsection (B) of the article provides this rule applies “to any claim for recovery of damages for injury, death, or loss asserted under any law or legal doctrine or theory of liability, regardless of the basis of liability.”

In Murray, the Supreme Court previously held that the doctrine of assumption of risk no longer had a place in Louisiana tort law following the adoption of comparative fault. Nevertheless, the Murray Court identified two exceptions:

  • Cases “where the plaintiff, by oral or written agreement, expressly waives or releases a future right to recover damages from the defendant,” if “no public policy concerns would invalidate such a waiver, the plaintiff’s right to recover damages may be barred on a release theory;” and
  • “[I]n the sports spectator or amusement park cases (common law’s “implied primary” assumption of risk cases).”

Murray, 521 So.2d at 1134. (internal citations omitted).

The Doe court observed that Murray provided no exception relative to professional rescuers. The Court further observed that, while the legislature had enacted statutes that bar plaintiff recovery in other settings, no such statute had been passed to codify the Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine.

Although professional rescuers injured in the performance of their duties may still be found at fault, the is no longer an automatic bar to suit.

Supreme Court Clarifies “Good Cause” for Additional Medical Opinion (“AMO”)

In cases that involve physical injury, defendants often request an “Additional Medical Opinion [AMO]” from a physician of their choice as part of the defense of the case. Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1464 allows a defendant to select a physician to perform a physical and/or mental examination of a plaintiff to challenge the plaintiff’s claimed physical and mental injuries. At times, a plaintiff may voluntarily agree to the examination. However, if an objection is lodged to the requested examination, a defendant must proceed with a Motion to Compel the Additional Medical Opinion. In the context of the motion, the defendant must establish the following for the AMO to be ordered pursuant to article 1464:

  1. The mental or physical condition of a party is in controversy; and
  2. “Good cause” exists for the AMO.

Because Louisiana courts routinely hold that a plaintiff puts his or her physical and mental condition in “controversy” by filing suit and requesting damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, the focus of a motion for an AMO is often on the “good cause” requirement. “Good cause” is not defined in La. CCP article 1464, and its meaning is not clear. Recently, however, the Louisiana Supreme Court provided guidance on the issue in the case of Hicks v USAA General Indemnity Company, et al., holding that a showing of “good cause” requires that a moving party establish a reasonable nexus between the requested examination and the condition in controversy.

In Hicks, the defendant moved for an AMO with an orthopedic surgeon after plaintiff filed suit, alleging personal injuries to his neck, back, and arm as a result of an accident. In the context of the Motion to Compel, it was argued the plaintiff put his physical condition in controversy by alleging injury. The defendant noted plaintiff treated with two physicians, one of whom did not believe plaintiff was a surgical candidate. The defendant also maintained “good cause” existed because a plaintiff “who asserts mental or physical injury… places that mental or physical injury clearly in controversy and provides the defendant with good cause for an examination to determine the existence and extent of such asserted injury.” In support of this argument, the defendant also highlighted inconsistent medical testimony concerning plaintiff’s physical conditions and treatment in support of “good cause.”

In opposing the motion, the plaintiff argued “good cause” was absent because two physicians already had offered opinions on plaintiff’s condition and treatment.

The trial court denied defendant’s Motion to Compel AMO on grounds that “good cause” did not exist. The trial court noted that two physicians already had been deposed and that a physician selected by the defendant could review plaintiff’s medical records and the depositions of the other doctors to offer an additional medical opinion at trial. The case proceeded to trial, where the defendant introduced testimony from a physician who relied upon the materials referenced in the court’s ruling to support his medical opinion. Not surprisingly, the plaintiff argued the opinion of the defendant-selected physician should be discredited because he never examined plaintiff.

After a trial judgment in favor of plaintiff, the defendant appealed. The appeal court also concluded “good cause” did not exist for the AMO, noting the absence of “definitive guidelines as to what constitutes good cause.”  The appeal court also noted the fact that defendant had the ability to obtain the desired information by other means was relevant in deciding whether good cause was shown.

The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions. It started its analysis by noting the basic premise of our system of justice: that both sides to a dispute stand on equal footing in gathering evidence and preparing for trial. It noted the AMO allowed under La. CCP article 1464 actually limits the extensive discovery permitted under Louisiana law, as it balances considerations of “sanctity of the body and the right to privacy with considerations of fairness in the judicial quest for truth.” Article 1464 seeks to achieve balance by requiring more than “relevance” for an AMO, granting the right to courts to order an AMO only when a plaintiff’s condition is “in controversy” and “good cause” supports allowing the examination. The Supreme Court also noted that an AMO may be one party’s only opportunity to independently ascertain the existence and extent of the other party’s claimed injuries.

After balancing these competing interests, the Louisiana Supreme Court found “good cause” under article 1464 requires the moving party to establish a reasonable nexus between the requested examination and the condition in controversy. The decision as to whether the moving party has demonstrated both the “in controversy” and “good cause” requirements lies in the sound discretion of the trial court. At times, the pleadings alone may contain sufficient information to establish a reasonable nexus.

As part of its decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court noted that although meeting the statute’s requirements may entitle a defendant to an examination, a defendant is not entitled to any AMO it request; reasonable limitations may still be applied. It remains the trial court’s role to balance the competing interests and rights of the parties, considering both “sanctity of the body” and the implication of one party’s privacy rights against considerations of fairness for the moving party.

After employing its analysis, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the defendant in Hicks demonstrated “good cause” because plaintiff alleged severe injuries as a result of the accident, claimed damages, and inconsistent medical testimony concerning plaintiff’s physical condition existed. It remanded the case for a new trial.

Summary Judgment Affirmed in Premises Liability Case Upon Court’s De Novo Review

In Marrero v. I. Manheim Auctions, Inc., the plaintiff fell after he exited a building during a rainstorm and stepped off a curb into a parking lot. He claimed he stepped into a divot where asphalt had washed away. The defendant moved for summary judgment.

In opposition, the plaintiff offered an expert affidavit that cited a lack of handrails, code violations, and loose pebbles as contributing to the plaintiff’s fall. To recover in the case, the plaintiff possessed the burden under La. R.S. 9:2800.6 to establish three elements: 1) the parking lot presented an unreasonable risk of harm, 2) this risk of harm was reasonably foreseeable, and 3) the defendant possessed actual or constructive notice of the alleged defect.

The defense argued the plaintiff could not show the parking lot presented an unreasonable risk of harm that was reasonably foreseeable and produced an expert affidavit to show the divot was only 3/16” deep. Evidence also showed the plaintiff was familiar with the area where he fell. The defendant also had received no prior complaints about the area. The trial court found that the parking lot did not present an unreasonable risk of harm because the divot was only 3/16” deep and granted summary judgment.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court should not have granted summary judgment in light of the competing expert affidavits regarding whether the parking lot presented an unreasonable risk of harm. However, when a motion for summary judgment is appealed, the court uses a de novo standard of review. Under this standard, the appellate court reviews all issues and considers all evidence submitted to the trial court in its ruling.

The First Circuit affirmed summary judgment but did so for different reasons than the trial court. The Marrero court found the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence of the third element, i.e., whether the defendant knew or should have known of the defect. Because the plaintiff failed to establish a material issue of fact as to all three required elements, summary judgment was granted. Marrero reminds that appellate courts may consider facts and legal issues the trial court did not address in its ruling.

Click It: The Seat Belt Defense In Louisiana

Louisiana has exhibited a certain double standard when it comes to seat belts.  For years, Louisiana participated in the “Click It or Ticket” public service campaign that lectured on the grave dangers caused by a failure to wear seat belts and the criminal consequences for a failure to comply.  Nevertheless, and for decades, the failure to wear a seat belt was off limits as evidence to reduce a plaintiff’s recovery in a personal injury context.  But, the rule was changed: effective January 1, 2021, the “gag rule” against evidence that a plaintiff failed to wear a seat belt in an accident has been lifted. La. R.S. 32:295.1. Louisiana has no recent history with the “seat belt defense,” such that many questions arise. To frame these questions, this blog takes a quick look to cases from other states and certain guideposts that may already exist in Louisiana jurisprudence.

Like several other states, Florida has a history with the defense. In Smith v. Butterick, 769 So.2d 1056, 1058-9 (Fla.2d DCA 2000), the court outlined three elements of proof a defendant must show to prevail on the defense. Similar elements have been identified in other states. See, e.g., Law v. Superior Court In and For Maricopa County, 157 Ariz. 147, 755 P.2d 1135 (1988). Louisiana may adopt similar elements or chart a different course. The elements outlined in Smith were as follows:

1-Failure to use an available, operational seat belt

This element can be proven through testimony from the plaintiff, passengers, responding law enforcement, or other such testimony or evidence to show that a seat belt was not in use at the time of the accident.  Similarly, testimony or photographs may be used to show that the seat belt was operational.

2- Failure to use seat belt was unreasonable under the circumstances

Insofar as Louisiana and most states generally mandate the use of seatbelts, this element should be easy to demonstrate.  Therefore, unusual facts may be necessary to excuse a plaintiff’s failure to use a seat belt such as an emergency trip to the hospital.

3-Plaintiff’s failure to use a seat belt substantially caused or contributed to the damages

Of the three possible elements, this is likely to be the battleground. In some cases, the issue may be simple. For instance, if a plaintiff’s failure to use a seatbelt allows their body to strike (or travel through) a windshield, it may be simple to show that the plaintiff’s (or decedent’s) failure to use a seatbelt magnified the injuries. Expert testimony may not even be needed.   In Smith, testimony from a mechanical engineer that the passenger would not have hit interior surfaces had they used a seat belt was allowed. However, will expert testimony be required in most cases and what type of expert will be needed? Engineer? Physician? Biomechanical?

Will the defendant bear the burden to prove the aggravation like they have in many national cases?  Will Louisiana courts fashion an inference or “shifting burden” approach where a prima facie showing that a plaintiff’s whose failure to wear a seat belt increased the possibility of injury would possess the burden to show their injuries would have occurred even had they used a seat belt.  In Anderson v. Watson, 953 P. 2d 1284 (Colo. 1998), the court required the defendant to only show a prima facie case of seat belt nonuse to allow the fact of nonuse to go to the jury. 

Seat belts are required because they can prevent or lessen injury. Does a defendant have to show the precise details as to how seat belt nonuse caused or magnified the injury? In Louisiana, these answers remain unclear; but these are some of the questions.

Further complications are present in cases involving alleged traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the new frontier of vestibular injuries. Louisiana courts have often rejected testimony from accident reconstruction or bio-mechanical experts for a variety of reasons, but with this statutory defense, such testimony may be critical to determine who is responsible for an alleged catastrophic loss.  States that recognize this rule have examined many factors that relate to the injuries that arise from the failure to use a seatbelt. As such, it seems inevitable that expert testimony on this issue must be considered in many nonuse cases.

No doubt, many of these questions will be the subject of litigation arising from accidents which occur after January 1, 2021. Louisiana’s double standard has ended.  What is certain is that a failure to wear a seat belt now has the potential to harm not only a plaintiff’s health, but also their chances of recovery in civil litigation.


Collin is a Keogh Cox partner who litigates injury, commercial, and legal malpractice disputes. He lives in nearby Zachary, Louisiana with his wife Melissa and three all too active children. He is an outdoorsman, a tennis player, a cook, and a hobbyist writer.

This blog was written in partnership with John P Wolff, III.

.

Keogh Cox Secures Dismissal Of Alleged Chemical / Environmental Exposure Case: Worker’s Compensation Immunity

In Million v. Exxon Mobil, et al., plaintiff was diagnosed with cancer and pulmonary embolisms in 2016. Plaintiff had worked in the chemical industry for 40 years. In his suit, filed in the United States Middle District Court, plaintiff alleged that long-term exposure to toxic chemicals during his employment caused his cancer.  While the suit alleged that Million’s former employers created an unsafe work environment, he admitted in deposition that he was provided both safety equipment and safety training during his employment.

Andrew Blanchfield, managing partner at Keogh Cox, represented one of the former employers and filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to enforce the protections of Louisiana worker’s compensation law. Under the law, worker’s compensation benefits are generally an employee’s exclusive remedy against an employer for work-related injuries or illnesses. An employer is therefore entitled to immunity from tort claims unless the employee can prove that employer committed an “intentional act.”

To prevail under an intentional act theory, a plaintiff is required to show that the employer’s act was “intentional” and “substantially certain” to result in injury to the plaintiff. In support of the motion to enforce immunity, the former employers cited to plaintiff’s admissions in deposition as to the efforts made for his safety and to the absence of evidence sufficient to show intentional conduct substantially certain to cause injury. The district court granted the motion and dismissed plaintiff’s claims. This month, the dismissal was upheld by the  United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Million v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Exxon Chem. Co./ Exxon Ref., No. 20-30002, 2020 WL 7054051 (5th Cir. Dec. 1, 2020).

This case illustrates the interplay between general Louisiana tort law and the Louisiana worker’s compensation law and shows that courts will require substantive evidence of an intentional act to maintain a tort suit against an otherwise immune employer.    


Chelsea Payne is an associate at Keogh Cox and has been practicing for three years. Her practice mainly relates to construction law and complex litigation. Chelsea enjoys playing tennis and spending time with her family.

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.

Subcontractor’s Status as Plaintiff’s “Two-Contract” Statutory Employer Establishes Owner’s Immunity

In Louisiana, a “statutory employer” is entitled to protection from tort suit. With limited exceptions, the defense must be supported by a contractual provision declaring the defendant to be a statutory employer in a manner consistent with La. RS 23:1061. In Spears v. Exxon Mobil Corporation & Turner Industries Group, LLC, 2019-0309, 291 So. 3d 1087 (La. App. 1st Cir. 2019), the defendant-premises owner successfully asserted the defense, notwithstanding multiple issues with respect to the nature and terms of the agreement and an alleged lack of privity with the plaintiff’s immediate employer.

In Spears, the plaintiff was injured when he slipped and fell on the production floor at the Exxon plastics plant. Spears filed suit against multiple parties, including Exxon, alleging it failed to provide a safe premises. The plaintiff worked for Poly Trucking who operated at Exxon under a contract with Polly-America. Poly-America, LP and Exxon, in turn, were signatories to an agreement entitled “STANDARD PURCHASE ORDER” which stated that Polly-America was to:

“… provide pickup/delivery service… For all containers of Polyethylene scrap as well as Polyethylene’s scrap recovery vacuum service for a quoted amount of one dollar.”

The “STANDARD PURCHASE ORDER” also contained a section expressly recognizing Exxon:

“… as the statutory employer of employees of Poly America and subcontractors while such employees are engaged in the contracted work.”

Exxon filed a motion for summary judgment based upon its status as Spears’ statutory employer. The Trial Court granted the motion and dismissed Exxon with prejudice. On appeal, Spears argued that the contract between Exxon and Poly-America presented multiple issues of fact and law which necessitated a reversal of the summary judgment. The issues identified by the plaintiff included the following:

  1. The agreement upon which Exxon relied was a “Contract of Sale,” not a “Contract for Services;”
  2. The agreement specified that the signatory contractor (Poly America) was an “Independent Contractor;”
  3. The plaintiff’s immediate employer (Poly Trucking) was neither a signatory to, nor specifically identified anywhere in the agreement; and,
  4. Although the agreement designated Exxon as the statutory employer of the “employees of Poly America,” Exxon is not specifically designated as the statutory employer of the employees of Poly Trucking, the plaintiff’s immediate employer.

The First Circuit Court of Appeal expressly rejected each of the plaintiff’s arguments.

First, the Court pointed out that the law does not mandate that the contract containing the statutory employment language be of any particular type. As such, whether the contract was considered a contract of sale or for services was irrelevant.

Secondly, the Court rejected the claim that contractual language describing Exxon as an “independent contractor” required a rejection of the statutory defense. The Spears Court reasoned that nothing in La. RS 23:1061 prevents an independent contractor from entering into a written agreement whereby the principal to that contract is recognized as the statutory employer of the employees of the contractor and its subcontractors.

Finally, the Court rejected the claim the defense should be rejected because the plaintiff’s immediate employer was not a party to the contract. As discussed in Spears, the law provides that the contract establishing statutory employment can be with either the plaintiff’s immediate employer or the plaintiff’s statutory employer, and Poly America qualified as the plaintiff’s statutory employer under the “two contract” theory because the work that Poly America subcontracted to the plaintiff’s immediate employer (Poly Trucking) was included within Poly America’s “STANDARD PURCHASE ORDER” contract with Exxon.

The Spears opinion highlights that the statutory defense should be maintained, even under unusual facts, when the requirements of La. RS 23:1061 are satisfied.

“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.

Is Timing Everything Where Workers Compensation Benefits are Forfeited Based on Fraud? It Depends…

In Moran v. Rouse’s Enterprises, LLC, 19-2392019(La. App.5 Cir. 12/26/19)- – – So. 3d – – -, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit held that there is a forfeiture of all benefits when a worker’s compensation claimant commits fraud, regardless of when the fraudulent conduct occurs. The court declined to follow opinions from the First and Third Circuits concluding otherwise.

In Moran, the claimant obtained treatment for injuries to her back, right knee, and right shoulder after a slip and fall at work for Rouses supermarket. In her deposition, the claimant Moran testified that she experienced knee pain only once before her fall; it was “years ago” and not “serious.” Moran also claimed that she experienced no prior shoulder or back pain. However, medical records established:

•             Complaints of knee pain on at least 8 separate occasions between 2012 and the job injury;

•             Complaints of right knee, right wrist, and back pain after a slip and fall in 2013; and

•             A right shoulder impingement diagnosis 2 months before the on-the-job accident.

Rouses and its workers compensation carrier affirmatively alleged a violation of La. R.S. 23:1208, Louisiana’s workers compensation fraud statute, following the claimant’s deposition. Paragraphs “A” and “E” of section 1208 provide in pertinent part:

A.            It shall be unlawful for any person… to willfully make a false statement or representation… for the purpose of obtaining or defeating any benefit or payment under…this Chapter.    

***

E.            Any employee violating this Section shall… forfeit any right to compensation benefits under this Chapter.

As part of their fraud defense, the defendants specifically denied responsibility for all worker’s compensation benefits, i.e. benefits that that might have otherwise been due both before and after the fraudulent deposition testimony.

Following trial, the workers compensation judge determined that Moran carried her burden of proving the occurrence of on-the-job injury and disability. Nevertheless, the trial court also ruled that the claimant made false statements for the purpose of obtaining workers compensation benefits in violation of section 1208, thereby forfeiting the right to both the pre and post-deposition benefits that she was claiming.

On appeal, Moran argued that the forfeiture requirement of section 1208 applies prospectively only. Moran cited opinions from the Louisiana First and Third Circuits. After addressing the statute and the case law, the Moran court affirmed the decision of the workers compensation judge finding that the forfeiture of benefits provided for in of Section 1208 is clear and unambiguous. The opinion states that “…if the legislature had intended to limit the application … it would have clearly expressed that in the statute.”

There are no Louisiana Supreme Court opinions which specifically address whether the Section 1208 forfeiture applies retroactively or prospectively only. Given the defined split in the Louisiana appellate courts, the issue is ripe for consideration by the state’s highest court.


Ed is a Keogh Cox partner who litigates Worker’s Compensation, automobile and premises liability as well as subrogation claims. He is an avid runner and enjoys traveling with his wife Jennifer and their three children.

A Matter of Control of a Bike Results in No Liability under the LPLA

A Louisiana man logged onto eBay. To save some money, he bought a used racing bicycle. While riding this bike through his neighborhood, he noticed an unlevel section of the roadway and attempted a “bunny hop” over the gap in the pavement. The front wheel disconnected when he landed. The cyclist lost control and flipped over the handlebars, sustaining serious injuries. He later filed suit against Specialized, the manufacturer of the bicycle, under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”). See Delahoussaye v. Boelter, — So.3d—, 2019-0026 (La. App. 1 Cir. 11/15/19).

The evidence in Delahoussaye showed that the bike was missing its “secondary retention device,” which keeps the wheel from disengaging if the “quick release” on clamp on the front fork is not engaged properly. Also, no warnings were found on the bike. Based upon this evidence, the cyclist claimed Specialized should be liable because the bike was defective; unreasonably dangerous in its design, construction, and manufacture; and inadequate in its instructions and warnings.

To recover from a manufacturer under the LPLA, a plaintiff must show that the product (here, the bike) was unreasonably dangerous at the time it left the manufacturer’s control. Photographs of the bike showed a light, silver spot on the bike where the secondary retention device had been located. This confirmed that the secondary retention device was removed after it originally was manufactured. Evidence also showed that warning stickers originally on the bike had been removed.

These changes were made after Specialized lost control of the bike. Because the bike was not defective when the product left Specialized’s control, Specialized, as the bike’s manufacturer, could not be liable under the LPLA for injuries the plaintiff sustained when he lost control of the bike. In short, this case came down to a matter of control.


Reynolds LeBlanc is a partner at Keogh Cox. His practice areas include commercial litigation, personal injury claims, appeals, and other matters. Reynolds is a former teacher, who in his free time plays music and perpetually talks himself into training for his next marathon.