Category: Louisiana

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.

Medical Malpractice: Can failure to communicate test results be medical malpractice?

The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal recently considered a medical malpractice case with an unusual set of facts.  Rather than the standard medical malpractice case, where a patient argues that he was misdiagnosed and/or claims that the doctor made a mistake when administering medical treatment, in Dufreche v. Jeffery Wayne Coco, MD and Internal Medicine Specialists, Inc., 2020-CA-0030 (La. App. 4th Cir.), the patient alleged that his doctor committed malpractice by failing to communicate test results.

In Dufreche, the patient showed signs of an HIV infection.  He was tested twice before being treated by the infectious disease specialist.  Both tests were negative.  During his examination, the infectious disease doctor thought it was unlikely that the patient had HIV, but tested him anyway at the patient’s insistence.  According to the patient, he was notified by the doctor that he would be provided the results upon receipt.

Unfortunately, the test results showed that the patient was HIV positive; however, he was not contacted.    Fifteen months passed, during which the patient was unaware that he was HIV positive.  Because he was not contacted, he assumed he was negative. When testing by another physician showed he was positive, the patient/plaintiff filed suit to recover damages allegedly suffered through a delay in treatment and psychological shock, including a claim for “emotional distress.”

To recover, the patient was required to establish: 1) the standard of care; 2) breach of that standard of care; and 3) that the breach caused his emotional distress.   At trial, the doctor testified that he required his patients to follow up in person to receive test results, and expected the patients to contact his office to schedule an appointment.  The court found that expecting a patient to follow up in person to receive sensitive test results was not a breach of the standard of care.  However, the evidence established that the patient was not instructed that he must schedule an in-person appointment to obtain his test results. 

The Dufreche court agreed with the lower court in finding that a failure to notify the patient of the doctor’s policy was a breach of the standard of care.  Further, the court found that the infectious disease specialist, who admitted to a duty to the public to protect them from HIV, had also breached his duty for failing to notify an HIV positive patient of his diagnosis for over fifteen months.  The doctor’s failure to communicate the results caused the patient’s emotional distress – resulting in an award of $45,000 in damages.


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.

Novel Coronavirus Breeds Novel Litigation: Business Interruption Suits in the Age of COVID-19

The nation’s first suit seeking a declaration of coverage under a commercial property policy for business interruption and extra expenses incurred as a result of COVID-19 was filed in a Louisiana state court on March 20, 2020. Since then, similar suits have been filed across the nation by restaurants, casinos, dentists, dive shops, movie theatres, repertory theatre companies, etc.  Clearly, the same coverage issues raised in the Louisiana case will be litigated throughout the nation.

The suit in Cajun Conti, LLC, et al v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, et al, Suit No. 2020-02558, was filed on March 16, 2020, in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana. Plaintiffs, doing business as Oceana Grill, a restaurant in the French Quarter, allege coverage should be declared to exist because: 1) the property policy is an “all risks” policy such that all risks are covered unless the insurer can clearly and specifically establish an exclusion from coverage; 2) the policy does not contain any exclusion “for losses from a virus or global pandemic;” 3) the virus has “physically impact[ed] public and private property” as it “physically infects and stays on the surface of objects or materials, ‘fomites,’ for up to twenty-eight days;” 4) such “contamination … [is] a direct physical loss needing remediation;” and, alternatively and in addition, 5) the current and future state orders limiting its operations serve to trigger the civil authority provisions of its policy.

A key issue in Cajun Conti as well as in the other COVID-19 business interruption coverage litigation will be whether the existence of the novel coronavirus constitutes a “direct physical loss or damage” under the intendment of an all risks property policy. The Cajun Conti plaintiffs cite to Widder v. Louisiana Citizens Prop. Ins. Corp., 2011-0196 (La. App. 4 Cir. 8/10/11), 82 So.3d 294, writ denied, 2011-2336 (La. 12/2/11) for the premise that the existence of a hazardous condition that renders the insured property unusable or uninhabitable is sufficient to constitute a “physical loss or damage” sufficient to trigger coverage.  Notably,  in Widder, the actual presence of inorganic lead in the insured property was confirmed to exist and coverage was therefore available. Because policyholders have the burden to establish the existence of “physical loss or damage,” reliance on Widder may require the Cajun Conti plaintiffs to establish coronavirus was actually present in their property or that its presence otherwise caused their property to be unusable or uninhabitable.  Presence in the community may not be sufficient to prove the coronavirus made the insured property uninhabitable or unusable.

One of the items of proof required for the triggering of coverage under the civil authority provisions of a commercial property policy is that the alleged business loss was caused by an action by the civil authority that prohibited access to the insured premises. Relying on out-of-state jurisprudence, one Louisiana federal court has determined this factor requires proof that access to the insured premises be “actually and completely prohibited,” which is not satisfied if the access is merely “limited or hampered.” Kean, Miller v. National Fire Ins. Co. of Hartford, C.A. No. 06-770 (M.D. La. Aug. 29, 2007), 2007 WL 2489711, *4-*6. The state orders expressly referenced in the Cajun Conti suit would appear not to satisfy this standard as they served only to limit occupancy and required earlier closures. Even the subsequent stay-at-home orders [Proclamation Number 33 JBE 2020 and 41 JBE 2020, issued respectively on March 22, 2020 and April 2, 2020], may likely be insufficient to satisfy this requirement as they do not expressly mandate closure of restaurants, but simply require restaurants to  “reduce operations to continue minimum contact with members of the public,” expressly allow for curbside delivery, drive-thru, and delivery services, and only prohibit the consumption of food and beverages on site. 

The specific facts of each business interruption claim and the terms of the relevant policy should be considered in every occasion. Yet, these suits may face problems of proof generally. For now, we expect the novel suits to continue.


John has been practicing over 30 years and is a Senior Partner with firm where he serves on the Management Committee. He has devoted attention to non-profit boards dedicated to assisting at risk children. He enjoys time with his three children and grandchildren. He also enjoys tennis and hiking.

Nancy B. Gilbert is a partner with Keogh Cox in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She is a puzzle-solver by nature, and specializes in providing clear and in-depth analysis of complex litigation issues. 

No Pay, No Play: What is it and why does it matter?

Louisiana’s automobile insurance premiums are some of the highest in the United States. With so many other demands on driver’s wallets, it may seem tempting to simply not purchase a liability automobile policy, even if it is required by Louisiana law. Louisiana’s “No Pay, No Play” statute, LA-R.S. 32:866, is intended to fight that temptation. See Progressive Sec. Ins. Co. v. Foster, 1997-2985 (La. 4/23/98), 711 So.2d 675. Below are some key considerations for drivers and insurers on either side of a potential “No Pay, No Play” dispute.

For Drivers

The “No Pay, No Play” statute means just what it seems—if you do not pay for your own liability insurance, you cannot recover under someone else’s liability insurance even if the accident is not your fault … at least to a point.

Specifically, the “No Pay, No Play” statute precludes someone who does not have liability insurance from recovering from another driver’s policy (1) the first $15,000 of bodily injury damages and (2) the first $25,000 of property damage. Of course, if damages do not exceed these amounts, it means the uninsured driver cannot recover his or her damage at all.

Of course, some exceptions exist. For example, the statute does not apply (meaning, it does reduce the plaintiff driver’s recovery) if the other driver is cited for operating his or her vehicle while intoxicated and is convicted or pleads nolo contendere; if the other driver intentionally causes the accident; if the other driver flees the scene; or if the other driver is in furtherance of the commission of a felony. However, the off-chance that a driver falls into an exception should not outweigh the obligation to comply with Louisiana law.

For Insurers

Generally, liability insurers should assert the “No Pay, No Play” affirmative defense when it appears a plaintiff driver lacks liability insurance. However, insurers should also keep in mind that this defense also has limitations.

For instance, the “No Pay, No Play” statute is not necessarily a total bar to a plaintiff’s recovery. If damages exceed $15,000 for bodily injury and/or $25,000 for property damage, payment may still be owed for these excess damages.

Secondly, the party asserting the “No Pay, No Play” affirmative defense—usually a defendant insurer—bears the burden of establishing that the plaintiff driver lacked insurance coverage on the vehicle he or she was operating at the time of the incident.

This burden can sometimes present difficult issues. For instance, in Johnson v. Henderson, 2004-1723 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/16/05), 899 So.2d 626, the plaintiff was operating a vehicle he did not own. The defendant failed to yield and struck the plaintiff’s car.  The defendant and his insurer asserted the affirmative defense under “No Pay, No Play.”

The facts of the case suggest the vehicle that the plaintiff was operating was not insured, but plaintiff paid his “premiums” to the owners of the vehicle, had an ostensibly valid insurance card, and believed he was insured. The court found that the defendants failed to carry their burden of establishing a lack of coverage. As a result, the insurer owed the plaintiff the full amount of his damages—a total of $5,855.00 that would otherwise have been precluded under the statute.  

The “No Pay, No Play” issue is easily avoided: Louisiana drivers should get the insurance required by the statute. Failure to do so runs the risk of discounting (and potentially barring) recovery for accidents that are not the driver’s fault.

Coronavirus and Workers Compensation in Louisiana

In Louisiana, workers compensation benefits can be owed if an employee sustains an accident or develops an occupational disease arising out of and occurring during the course and scope of their employment.  The definitions and burdens of proof differ for each.

An accident is defined by La. R.S. 23:1021 as:

(1) “Accident” means an unexpected or unforeseen actual, identifiable, precipitous event happening suddenly or violently, with or without human fault, and directly producing at the time objective findings of an injury which is more than simply a gradual deterioration or progressive degeneration.

An occupational disease is defined by La. R.S. 23:1031.1 as:

B. An occupational disease means only that disease or illness which is due to causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to the particular trade, occupation, process, or employment in which the employee is exposed to such disease. Occupational disease shall include injuries due to work-related carpal tunnel syndrome. Degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, arthritis of any type, mental illness, and heart-related or perivascular disease are specifically excluded from the classification of an occupational disease for the purpose of this Section.

C. Notwithstanding the limitations of Subsection B hereof, every laboratory technician who is disabled because of the contraction of any disease, diseased condition, or poisoning which disease, diseased condition, or poisoning is a result, whether directly or indirectly, of the nature of the work performed, or the dependent of a laboratory technician whose death is the result of a disease, diseased condition, or poisoning, whether directly or indirectly, of the nature of the work performed shall be entitled to the compensation provided in this Chapter the same as if said laboratory technician received personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment.

As used herein, the phrase “laboratory technician” shall mean any person who, because of his skills in the technical details of his work, is employed in a place devoted to experimental study in any branch of the natural or applied sciences; to the application of scientific principles of examination, testing, or analysis by instruments, apparatus, chemical or biological reactions or other scientific processes for the purposes of the natural or applied sciences; to the preparation, usually on a small scale, of drugs, chemicals, explosives, or other products or substances for experimental or analytical purposes; or in any other similar place of employment.

Except as otherwise provided in this Subsection, any disability or death claim arising under the provisions of this Subsection shall be handled in the same manner and considered the same as disability or death claims arising due to occupational diseases.

In general, if an employee can prove that they were exposed to Coronavirus at work, and that the particular exposure caused them to contract Coronavirus disease, they may be able to prove a compensable accident.  The burden of proof is a tough one, of course, because it would seem to be nearly impossible for an employee who contracts the Coronavirus to prove the contraction resulted from work as opposed to exposure in some other environment.  However, it is important to note that one Louisiana court did find that a claimant was able to meet that burden when he contracted the West Nile Virus by proving to the satisfaction of the Workers Compensation Judge, rather incredibly, that a particular mosquito bite occurring at work was the cause.  Allen v. Graphic Packaging,   51,080 (La. App. 2nd Cir. 1/11/17), 211 So.3d 1219.   If a claimant is able to prove the occurrence of an accident, then the usual workers compensation medical and indemnity benefits would be payable depending on medical needs, disability status, or even death benefits if the employee expired as the result of such an accident.

For an employee to be able to prove that their contraction of Coronavirus disease fits within the definition of an occupational disease, they would have to prove that it was “due to causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to” their employment.  Some healthcare workers and others in related fields who become infected would seem to have an easier time proving their cases than others whose work would not customarily lead to such exposures.  The definition above includes laboratory technicians (which could be an expansive list as defined) who contract a disease as the result exposure to something that they are working on/with.  The statute also provides some timing elements for claim filing and causation presumption, most of which would not seem to apply because of novel nature of the current Coronavirus outbreak.  As with claims asserted as accidents, the usual medical and indemnity benefits would be payable depending on the circumstances of the individual worker.

For additional details on the Allen case, please review Keogh Cox blog “One Particular Mosquito: West Nile Virus Found to be a Compensable Workers’ Compensation Claim” by clicking here:  https://keoghcox.com/one-particular-mosquito-west-nile-virus-found-compensable-workers-compensation-claim/.

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.

Limitation of Liability under the LPLA: Can Internet Retailers be Manufacturers?

The Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”) contains the exclusive theories of recovery against a manufacturer for damages caused by its product. The term “manufacturer” within the LPLA includes “the seller of a product who exercises control over or influences a characteristic of the design, construction, or quality of the product that causes damage.” The rapid growth of e-commerce raises a unique question – how do we classify internet retailers?

Internet retailers generally act as a middleman for third party manufacturers and online consumers. In this respect, they are not technically “sellers” as defined by the LPLA because they typically do not have control over the design or construction of the products they sell. Nevertheless, the proper categorization of internet retailers may become important when someone is injured by a product, as was the case in State Farm Fire and Casualty Company v. Amazon.com, Inc., 2019 WL 5616708 (Miss. N.D. 10/31/19) — F.Supp.3d —.

In State Farm Fire and Casualty Company v. Amazon.com, Inc., two hoverboards purchased through Amazon caught fire inside a Mississippi home and the home was destroyed. In considering Amazon’s possible liability, the Mississippi Court asked whether Amazon was a “service provider” or a “marketplace.” In Mississippi, a finding that Amazon was a “service provider” would insulate it from the claim. However, if Amazon acted as a “marketplace,” it could be exposed by the common law to a negligent failure-to-warn claim. The Mississippi Court held that, because Amazon operated as a marketplace, the claim against it could go forward.

If similar facts arose in Louisiana, could Amazon or similar retailers be exposed under the LPLA? If an internet retailer established policies that forced a “true” manufacturer to negatively alter product quality, would the LPLA provide a remedy?  For example, if an internet retailer sets a price ceiling, this artificial figure, especially if unreasonably low, might pressure a manufacturer to lower product safety. Is setting a price range the exercise of enough control or influence over the “design, construction, or quality of a product” to render internet retailers subject to suit under the LPLA? That is a question likely to be answered in cases to come.

Throw Me Something Mister? Liability for Mardi Gras Krewes

As part of the unique aura that surrounds Mardi Gras in South Louisiana, the expression “Laissez les bons temps rouler” is forever linked to the spirit of the season. The Cajun French phrase meaning “Let the good times roll” captures the eccentric soul of Carnival. However, it might be difficult to let the good times roll after being struck by a bag of beads hurled from the second deck of float. If the spectator suffers a severe injury as a result, who is liable? Does the injured party have any recourse against the person who threw the beads? Against the Mardi Gras krewe organizers?

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal held that spectators assume the risk of injury when attending a parade. Citron v. Gentilly Carnival Club, Inc., 14-1096 (La. App. 4 Cir. 4/15/15), 165 So.3d 304. The foundation of the decision was based on the Mardi Gras Immunity Statute, La. R.S. 9:2796, which has two parts: (1) creates broad immunity for krewes which sponsor parades; and (2) states that anyone who attends such a parade “assumes the risk of being struck by any missile whatsoever which has been traditionally thrown, tosses or hurled by members,” which include, but are not limited to: beads, cups, doubloons, and many other things.

To impose liability on a krewe, there must be evidence of the krewe’s—as opposed to its member’s—gross negligence. Palmer v. Zulu Soc. Aid & Pleasure Club, Inc., 09–0751 (La. App. 4 Cir. 3/1/10), 63 So.3d 131 (emphasis added). Furthermore, a carnival krewe or organization may not be vicariously liable for its members’ acts. To the contrary, Louisiana jurisprudence has rejected the argument that a krewe is vicariously liable for its members’ acts. Kibble v. B.P.O. Elks Lodge No. 30, 640 So.2d 267, 269 (La. App. 4th Cir. 1993).

The Mardi Gras Immunity Statute imposes an extremely high burden of proving the “loss or damage was caused by the deliberate and wanton act or gross negligence” of the krewe or organization. Gross negligence has been defined as the “entire absence of care” and an “extreme departure from ordinary care or the want of even scant care.” Ambrose v. New Orleans Police Department Ambulance Service, 93–3099 (La. 7/5/94), 639 So.2d 216. In calculating whether an act was grossly negligent in the context of Mardi Gras Immunity Statute, the Citron court considered several factors: (1) the weight of the object thrown, (2) the distance the object was throw, and (3) the manner in which the object was thrown. Citron, 165 So.3d at 317.

Ultimately, the statute absolves krewes from liability for injuries caused by objects thrown to parade spectators, except in extreme and unusual circumstances. Therefore, be alert during parades this Mardi Gras season and Laissez les bons temps rouler.


Cole Frazier joined Keogh Cox as an associate in 2019 after working at the firm as a law clerk during law school. He earned his J.D. and Diploma in Comparative Law from Louisiana State University, Paul M. Hebert Law Center. During his time at LSU Law, he also studied comparative law at Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University in Lyon, France. Cole received his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Pre-law from Nicholls State University in 2015. He was elected to the Southland Conference all-academic team twice as a member of the Nicholls State football program.

An Insurer’s Duty: To Defend or Not To Defend

Primary insurance policies include the duty to defend an insured in connection with a covered loss. The insurer is sometimes presented with the question of whether a defense is owed when many of the allegations are not apparently covered by a particular policy. In this circumstance, how does an insurer determine its obligation? The law provides the answer: the “eight corners” rule—do the four corners of the policy unambiguously exclude coverage in all respects when viewed within the context of the four corners of the petition? If the answer is “no,” the duty to defend arises. Mossy Motors, Inc. v. Cameras America, 2004-0726 (La. App. 4 Cir. 3/2/05), 898 So.2d 602, 606.

Courts generally hold that the duty to defend the case extends to ALL claims, not just the covered claims. This duty can often prove quite costly, especially when non-covered claims are high-value or involve extensive factual development or testimony to defend. In some instances, the answer under the eight corners analysis is not so clear. The safe choice for the insurer is to provide a defense and hire separate counsel to handle the coverage side of the case.

In this scenario, where an insurer has serious coverage defenses, but agrees to provide the defense, when does the duty to defend terminate? The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal recently ruled on this issue again in Ponchartrain Natural Gas System, K/D/S Promix, L.L.C. and Acadian Gas Pipeline System v. Texas Brine Company, L.L.C., No. 2018 CA 0254 (La. App. 12/12/19), stating:

            “Our previous decisions in the related sinkhole appeals clearly set out the well-established rule of law that an insurer’ s duty to defend terminates once the undisputed facts establish, or a judicial determination is made, that the claims asserted are not covered under the policy. See Florida Gas, 272 So. 3d at 551; Pontchartrain, 264 So.3d at 553- 54; Crosstex, 240 So.3d at 1032.”

So, the duty to defend ends when undisputed facts establish OR a judicial determination is made that the asserted claims are not covered. Of course, who is to say that the facts are “undisputed” without a judicial determination that confirms this conclusion.  An insurer could unilaterally determine that facts are undisputed and terminate the defense before a judicial determination, but if the court does not agree, the insurer may have issues. Accordingly, the safe course is to await a judicial determination before an insurer terminates the defense.

It is important to distinguish the duty of an excess carrier because such policies generally do not provide an obligation to defend. Instead, the excess carrier may exercise its “right to defend.”

Erratic Driving and the Duty of Law Enforcement

The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal recently ruled on the duty of law enforcement and the potential for tort liability should that duty be breached.  In Aaron L. Van Cleave and Christy Van Cleave v. Arthur Wayne Temple, et. al., 2018 CA 1353 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/31/19), the appellate court considered the duty of law enforcement to the general public after the police receive a report of erratic driving.

Arthur Wayne Temple was driving a 2006 Ford F-250 truck in St. Helena Parish when he crossed the center line of Louisiana Highway 16 and struck a truck driven by Allen Marchand.  Aaron Van Cleave was a passenger injured in the accident. 

About an hour before the collision, June Blades was driving behind Temple, observed erratic driving, and called the police.  In response, a sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to the area but could not locate the truck.  Van Cleave sued a number of potentially liable parties. Aware that the police knew of the erratic driving before the accident, he included the sheriff’s department as a defendant.  He argued that the sheriff’s department possessed a duty to locate the erratic driver before they cause harm.

Louisiana jurisprudence recognizes that the police have an affirmative duty to ensure that motorists are not subjected to an unreasonable risk of harm.  But, the scope of that duty is based on the particular facts of the case and the relationships of the parties; and must be reasonable.  In this case, the court found that the sheriff’s department acted reasonably by immediately dispatching an officer to attempt to locate the truck, even if they were unable to ultimately stop the accident.

Virginia “Jenny” McLin has experience handling cases from the initial client consultation to preparing a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. Her experience allows her to work with clients to develop a cost-effective litigation plan for each case.  Recently, Jenny was on the defense team that prevailed in a workers’ compensation case involving a discovery-related issue that was upheld on appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court. This had a state-wide effect on the handling of discovery in workers’ compensation matters.

Minimal Force of an Impact Matters in Car Accident Litigation

For years, Louisiana plaintiffs attorneys have argued that the force of impact in an auto accident is not determinative of their clients’ injuries and should be afforded little, if any, weight. A recent decision out of the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal does damage to that argument. In Jones v. Bravata, Jr. and The City of Baton Rouge, 2018 CA 0837 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/9/19), the First Circuit upheld the trial court’s jury instruction on “force of impact” where photographs showed only minor damage and the defendant described the accident as a “bump.”

The accident occurred when a City employee rear-ended the plaintiffs’ vehicle. Liability was stipulated and the only question at trial was damages. Mrs. Jones alleged severe neck and back injuries. She began treatment with an orthopedist within a week of the accident and thereafter received five “relatively non-invasive surgical procedures” in lieu of a lumbar fusion surgery. The jury returned a verdict of $200,000, which included $150,000 in past medical expenses and $35,000 in future medical expenses, but awarded little for general damages. Mrs. Jones appealed the verdict, asserting that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on force of impact.

The “force of impact” jury instruction in dispute provided:

While the force of a collision may be considered in determining whether a person was injured by an accident and the extent of the injuries sustained, it should not be the only factor to consider in making such a determination. Even though the force of impact may be slight, it does not preclude an award of damages. However, in determining causation, you may consider the minimal nature of the accident.

In considering the plaintiff’s assignment of error, the First Circuit noted that Mrs. Jones was correct that no witness specifically testified that the accident was too minor to have caused her injuries. However, there was evidence in the record upon which the jury could have reached the conclusion that this was a minimal impact.

Common sense would appear to support a connection between the force of an impact and the injury one could be expected to suffer. The recent Jones decision allows defendants to promote this common sense argument. Where the claimed injuries are disproportionate to the forces involved, this argument can make the difference at trial.

John Grinton is a partner of the firm admitted in state, federal and appellate courts throughout Louisiana.  His practice focuses on commercial and construction litigation, representing insurance companies, architects, engineers, contractors and other businesses in all aspects of litigation.  His workers’ compensation practice includes representing clients in medical billing disputes, healthcare provider disputes, statutory/borrowing/special employer disputes, and court approved settlements. John has been involved in complex cases involving construction defect claims, breach of contract and negligence actions, insurance coverage issues, lender liability, securities litigation and personal injury matters. He has firsthand experience in jury trials and arbitration’s, as well as mediation, appellate briefing and oral argument.

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.