Category: Louisiana

To Be or Not To Be Specific—Fact Pleading in Louisiana

Louisiana is a fact-pleading state. Accordingly, Louisiana law requires that a petition contain “a short, clear and concise statement of all causes of action and material facts arising out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the litigation.”  See La. C.C.P. art. 891. Generally, the pleader must state what act or omission he will establish at trial. Legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations do not meet the pleading standards required by Louisiana law.

This concept recently was examined in Henderson v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2021-0654 (La. App. 4 Cir. 12/17/21), 2021 WL 7162224, where the court considered bad faith allegations the plaintiff tried to assert against an insurer in his petition for damages. At the time of the underlying accident, the plaintiff was a passenger in a Lyft vehicle that was struck by an unknown driver. Steadfast Insurance Company was the Lyft driver’s insurer, and the plaintiff named Steadfast as a defendant to recover damages under its policy.

The plaintiff later amended his petition to seek uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits under the Steadfast policy. He also sought penalties from Steadfast for alleged bad faith and dealing in its insurance practices. In turn, Steadfast filed an exception of no cause of action, arguing that plaintiff’s petition only contained legal conclusions and not specific facts, which were insufficient to support a cause of action. The trial court overruled the exception.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the decision. Plaintiff’s amended petition alleged that Steadfast “refused to deal with him in good faith, including but not limited to, refusing to issue unconditional (McDill) tenders and taking actions in violation of La. R.S. 22:1892 and La. R.S. 22:1973.” The plaintiff also generally alleged the insurer acted “arbitrarily, capriciously and without probable cause” in its failure to pay money under its policy.

The Court noted that the plaintiff’s allegations were legal conclusions asserted as facts, which could not be considered as well-pleaded factual allegations for purposes of a no cause of action. Importantly, the court reiterated that a court may not consider legal conclusions “clothed as facts,” citing Hooks v. Treasurer, 06-0541, p. 10 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/4/07), 961 So.2d 425, 431-32.  Accordingly, the plaintiff’s allegations, absent additional information, were insufficient to state a cause of action. The plaintiff failed to state specific actions or omissions that would be established at trial. Hence, he failed to state a cause of action.

Renewed or Was it New? Dispute over UM Coverage in Auto Policy

Louisiana law requires UM coverage in automobile liability insurance policies in the same amount as the policy’s bodily injury liability coverage. UM coverage will be included in the policy unless the insured rejects UM coverage, selects lower limits, or selects economic-only coverage. This rejection, selection of lower limits, or selection of economic-only coverage must be made on a form prescribed by the commissioner of insurance and must be signed by the insured or its legal representative. See La. R.S. 22:1295. If a rejection form is not completed, UM coverage will be read into the policy. However, a valid UM waiver form executed for a policy of insurance remains in effect when that policy is renewed with a few exceptions. Generally, execution of a new waiver form is not required unless a new policy is issued or the liability limits increased. These basic principles were considered in the recent First Circuit decision in Johnson, et al. v.  Bass, Geico General Ins. Co., and GoAuto Management Services, LLC, 2021 CA 0139 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/22/21).

In Johnson, the plaintiff obtained a policy of insurance from GoAuto on July 17, 2015 and validly rejected UM coverage on the commissioner’s UM rejection form. The plaintiff renewed the policy multiple times and also completed an “Application for Personal Automobile Insurance” on February 23, 2018 to add her husband and an additional vehicle to the policy. 

The Johnson plaintiff was in a motor vehicle accident on November 26, 2019 and claimed UM benefits under the policy. She argued that the insurance application she completed in February 2018 to add a new driver and a new vehicle to the policy created a new policy of insurance that required completion of a new UM waiver form. Because a new UM waiver form was not executed in February 2018, the plaintiff argued that UM coverage should be read into the policy. Thus, the question posed to the court was whether the 2018  policy became new or was simply a renewal. The trial court found that the policy was a renewal and dismissed the UM claim.

The First Circuit affirmed and rejected the plaintiff’s argument holding, “the language of La. R.S. 22:1295 is clear and unambiguous; only changes in the ‘limits of liability’ to an existing policy will create a new policy that requires the completion of a new UM selection form.” Despite multiple renewals, the liability limits of the policy did not change from the date it was issued through the date of the accident. Importantly, the limits also did not change when the new driver and vehicle were added to the policy in February 2018. Thus, no new policy was created. The original rejection of UM coverage remained in effect, and the plaintiff’s claims against her alleged UM insurer were dismissed.

Hurricane Ida: Louisiana Department of Insurance Implements Mediation Program

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, the Louisiana Department of Insurance (LDI) implemented a mediation program to assist policy holders with disputed insurance claims. Effective October 18, 2021, the program was implemented to assist in the prompt and reasonable settlement of disputed insurance claims.

The program is open to all authorized property and casualty insurers, as well as all surplus line insurers for personal lines residential insurance claims up to $50,000.00. Both the insurer or policyholder can submit a written request for mediation; the opposing party is free to accept or deny the invitation. If initially denied, the parties are free to later opt to participate.

If both parties agree to mediation, a mediator will be assigned and within 30 days a mediation will be scheduled at a local Mediation & Arbitration Professional Systems (MAPS) or Perry Dampf Dispute Solutions location in the Baton Rouge or New Orleans area. The initial mediation session allows for 90-minutes; however, parties are allowed to continue the mediation beyond the initial session at the agreement of the mediator.

The mediation program is free to all policyholders and a $600 fee is assessed to the insurer for the first 90-minute mediation session. If the parties and mediator agree to continue the mediation beyond the initial 90-minute session, additional fees will be assessed for the mediator’s services. The parties are to determine among themselves who will be responsible for the additional costs.  

The parties are required to provide all relevant documentation to the assigned mediator and a detailed explanation of the claim and any obstacles to resolution. The policyholder can represent themselves or through counsel. They are even encouraged to bring knowledgeable individuals such as adjusters, appraisers, or contractors.

If a resolution is reached, even just partial, both parties will reduce the agreement to writing and sign the agreement. The insurer will be required to furnish any required payment to the policyholder within ten (10) days of signing the agreement. If the parties only reach a partial agreement, they will be permitted to continue to use the mediation services and schedule future mediation dates.

At this time, the program is scheduled to continue through June 30, 2022.

What ifs….. Indemnifying Premises Liability Exposure

If you are a property owner, stop and think about the “what ifs” before you enter into a lease with a property manager or lessee. For example, what if an invitee of the property that you own is hurt while on and/or because of a condition on the property? Who is responsible?

A property owner may be able to transfer its potential liability to a property manager or lessee of the property if the lease contains an indemnification provision. However, not all indemnification provisions are enforceable, and these critical provisions are often litigated.

The Eastern District Court of Louisiana recently enforced an indemnification provision, granting  summary judgment to a landowner who sought indemnification from its property lessee in Avila v. Village Mart, LLC, Civ. A. No. 20-1850, 2021 WL 4439579 (E.D. La. 9/28/21). In the case, a shopping center leased retail space to a men’s store. Before the store opened, a painter was injured when he fell from a ladder. The owner of the shopping center argued that the lessee owed a defense. It argued indemnity applied because the plaintiffs’ claims arose out of the lessee’s buildout construction, over which the owner did not have any care, custody, or control.

In response, the lessee argued that the owner was not entitled to indemnification because the plaintiffs’ claims did not “arise out of or were connected with Tenant’s use, occupancy, management or control of the Leased Premises.” The lessee claimed that it was not using, occupying, managing, or controlling the leased space because the only permitted use of the space was to sell menswear, and the space was not being used for this purpose at the time of the accident.

Louisiana courts often apply a “but for” causation test to such “arising out of” language in indemnity provisions.  Avila, 2021 WL 4439579, at *5, citing Kan. City S. Ry. Co. v. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., No. 06-03, 2010 WL 1293340, at *6 (W.D. La. Mar. 29, 2010), and Perkins v. Rubicon, Inc., 563 So.2d 258, 259-60 (La. 1990). The court observed the lessee’s arguments contradicted language in the lease that allowed the lessee to use and occupy the store before it opened to the public. The lease also explained that the lessee was responsible for certain construction work and identified specific dates to begin work and to open the store. Thus, the lease contemplated use and occupancy before the store was open to the public. The court found that the lessee’s possession of the space and its construction obligations under the lease established its use and occupancy of the space. The court stated:

Given the broad language in the indemnity agreement – ‘arising out of or connected with’ – [the plaintiffs’] injuries, resulting from his work as a subcontractor painting the premises leased by [the retail space lessee,] are connected to [its] use and occupancy of the premises. … Because [the retail space lessee] was in possession of the space, and had assumed responsibility for the buildout and for contractors and subcontractors working on the buildout, the Court finds that the plaintiffs’ liability theories fall within the scope of the indemnity provision in the lease.  Avila, 2021 WL 4439579, at *6.

The enforceability of indemnity provisions such as the one examined in Avila will continue to be litigated. In the meantime, Avila reminds us of the importance of sound indemnity language to anticipate the “what ifs.”

Hurricane Ida: Governor Extends Legal Deadlines

We previously reported that the Louisiana Supreme Court issued Orders suspending prescriptive, peremptive and abandonment periods for thirty days in the wake of Hurricane Ida. Governor John Bel Edwards has now issued a Proclamation. In addition to other actions, the Proclamation provides that legal deadlines applicable to “legal proceedings in all courts, administrative agencies, and boards” are suspended until September 24, 2021.

The Proclamation also authorizes hotels and motels to cancel reservations which would result in the displacement or eviction of first responders, health care workers, or anyone performing disaster-related work.

Here Comes Hurricane Ida: What To Do If Your Home is Damaged by a Storm or Flood

Unfortunately, Louisianians have endured many natural disasters in the past several years. From the historic flooding in Baton Rouge in August 2016 to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020, Gulf Coast residents are very familiar with significant storms and flooding events. While the rebuilding process will take months or years to complete, this article is designed to provide some basic information on how to document and report your property damage claim and apply for and obtain disaster assistance.

  • DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT – Once you are able to do so, make sure to document the damages to your home and contents.  Whether for a homeowners or flood insurance policy or to obtain government assistance, take plenty of photos of the damage.  Make a list of the items in your home that were damaged or destroyed.  One way to organize this list is to list each item from each room together, approximate its age, where it was purchased and its value when purchased.  As you rebuild, and materials and items are thrown out, it will be much more difficult to document your claim.
  • REPORT YOUR CLAIM – Report your damage to your homeowners or flood insurer as soon as possible.  Provide as much detail about the damage as you can. If you are unaware of your insurer, contact your insurance agent who can help you to report your claim.
  • OBTAIN MULTIPLE ESTIMATES – Although it is often difficult to do so after a natural disaster because of the volume of work, obtain multiple estimates for the work needed on your home.  Pay for the estimate if necessary.  If you have three estimates and the amounts are close, they are much more credible.  Also, try and get as much detail as possible in each estimate, including specific materials to be used, dimensions, and finishes.
  • SAVE YOUR RECEIPTS – Whether for repairs you undertake to fix the damage to your home, to replace contents, or for living expenses after the storm, save your receipts.  These receipts will be used to document your losses and verify the amount of your claim to your insurer. 
  • FOLLOW UP WITH YOUR INSURER – Provide whatever is requested by your insurer as they adjust your claim.  Communicate with your insurer on a regular basis. Although it may seem tedious, communication with your insurer during the claim is important.
  • APPLY FOR ASSISTANCE – Especially if your property is not insured, make sure to immediately apply for government assistance.  You can apply for federal assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov.  Oftentimes, the state government will also administer federal or state disaster assistance funds. 

Louisiana Supreme Court Provides Updated Guidance on Execution of UM Waiver Forms

Under Louisiana law, uninsured/underinsured insurance coverage is implied in any automobile policy of insurance, and UM coverage will be read into the policy unless it is validly rejected. This rejection of UM coverage must be “clear and unmistakable.” The Louisiana Supreme Court recently addressed the issue of what qualifies as a valid rejection of UM coverage in Baack v. McIntosh, 2021-01054 (La. 6/30/21), — So.3d —.

The Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance provides a form which must be completed to reject UM coverage. This form allows the insured to initial one of four selections regarding UM coverage: (1) UM coverage at lower limits than liability coverage; (2) economic-only coverage with same limits; (3) economic-only UM coverage at lower limits; or (4) no UM coverage. A representative of the insured must initial one of these options for that option to apply to the policy at issue. This list does not include an option to select UM coverage. Therefore, the Baack Court held that “the only way to ‘select’ UM coverage on the form is to not initial any of the provided choices.”

The insured in Baack properly rejected UM coverage through the UM form in 2002. A proper rejection of UM coverage remains valid for the life of the policy, and a new form is not required when a policy is renewed. However, the Court found that, under La. R.S. 22:1295, an insured may change its rejection of UM coverage at any time by submitting a new UM form to the insurer. 

In 2011, the insured increased its liability limits under the policy, which required completion of a new form. UM coverage again was properly rejected. Even though not legally required, the insurer sent new UM waiver forms to the insured in 2012, 2013, and 2014 when the policy was renewed. However, the insured completed each of these forms without initialing any of the four selections related to UM coverage. The insurer later issued the insurance policies without objection. The court found that the insured changed its rejection of UM coverage when it submitted the new forms in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Because the insurer did not initial these forms when they were resubmitted, the insured “selected” UM coverage under Baack’s analysis, and UM coverage was afforded under the policy. Importantly, the Court held that, if the insurer believed the failure to make a selection on the forms was a mistake, it was the insurer’s responsibility to follow-up with the insured to make any necessary corrections. Three justices dissented and argued that the majority opinion negates other law which provides that an insured must make a “written request” to add UM on a policy where UM is rejected. UM cases are often fact-intensive and each case should therefore be assessed under their own specific facts.

What to do if your Home or Business is Damaged by Flood or Storm

Unfortunately, recent flooding and storm events have again affected our area in Louisiana.  Many people experienced flooding and storm damage to their homes and businesses.  If you experienced flood or storm damage, please consider following these steps to ensure your damage claim is properly documented and submitted:

  • DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT – Once you are able, make sure to document the damages to your home and contents.  Whether for a homeowners or flood insurance policy or to obtain government assistance, take plenty of photos and video of the damage.  Make a list of the items that were damaged or destroyed.  One way to organize this list is to group items from each room together, approximate its age, where it was purchased, and its value when purchased.  It will be more difficult to document your claim once the cleanup or rebuilding begins.
  • OBTAIN MULTIPLE ESTIMATES -To the extent you are able, obtain multiple estimates for the work needed on your home.  Pay for the estimate if necessary.  If you have three estimates and the amounts are close, they are much more credible.  Also, try and get as much detail as possible in each estimate, including specific materials to be used, dimensions, and finishes.
  • NOTIFY YOUR INSURER – Whether a homeowners or flood policy claim, or other insurance claim related to your business, promptly notify your insurer of your damage.  Your insurer will send someone to inspect the damage and start your claim.  Provide as much information as possible to make their job as easy as possible.  That will likely quicken the pace of your claim.
  • FLOOD CLAIMS – If you have flood insurance, it is likely provided by the federal government through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  There are specific rules for submitting your claim through the NFIP.  YOU MUST SUBMIT FEMA FORM 086-0-11 (NOTICE OF LOSS) WITHIN 120 DAYS OF YOUR DAMAGE.  You can find this form here.

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.

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The New Home Warranty Act: Protections and Pitfalls

Louisiana’s New Home Warranty Act (“NHWA”) provides remedies to homeowners forcertain construction defects once the new home construction is complete.  La. R.S. 9:3141 et seq.  These protections can prove crucial to a homeowner’s ability to remedy defects that appear in their home, but the statutes providing these remedies establish strict guidelines that must be followed for the protections to apply. This generally post sets forth some of the key protections and obstacles/defenses that often arise. However, each specific claim should be considered under its own facts.

PROTECTIONS

The NHWA provides specific protections to homeowners.  Each protection expires if not advanced within a set time-period.

Noncompliance/Defects– The NHWA protects against “any defect due to noncompliance with the building standards or other defects in materials or workmanship not regulated by building standards.”  La. R.S. 9:3144(A)(1).  This category includes defective construction or materials used in the construction. Even seemingly minor issues such as cracked plaster, yellowing paint, and “rubbing off” of new paint can give rise to a valid claim for recovery under this portion of the NHWA.  See Bynog v. MRL, LLC, 05-122 (La. App. 3 Cir. 6/1/05), 903 So.2d 1197.   Deviations from the “plans and specifications” for a home may also be recoverable.  See Thorn v. Caskey, 32-310 (La. App. 2 Cir. 9/22/99), 745 So.2d 653.

Because this first protection is so broad, it also provides the shortest time-period to assert a claim: one year from the “warranty commencement date,” which is either the date legal title to the home is conveyed to its initial purchaser or the date the home is first occupied, whichever occurs first.  La. R.S. 9:3142(7).

Plumbing/Electrical/HVAC– The NHWA also protects the homeowner from defects in the plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling, and ventilating systems.  These protections exclude equipment or appliances.  A homeowner must bring a claim under this second category within two years of the warranty commencement date.  La. R.S. 9:3144(A)(2). 

Major Structural Problems– the NHWA allows recovery for major structural defects up to five years following the warranty commencement date.  La. R.S. 9:3144(A)(3).  For instance, recovery was allowed for a failing foundation under this provision in Campo v. Sternberger, 15-53 (La. App. 5 Cir. 11/19/15),179 So.3d 908.

PITFALLS

The most obvious – and probably most prevalent – pitfall is the timeliness of the claim. Courts do not hesitate to dismiss a claim if it is not timely filed. 

The NHWA also requires that the homeowner give the builder written notice (via certified mail) of the defect before the homeowner attempts a repair, or before filing suit under the NHWA.  La. R.S. 9:3145(A).  This notice must be sent to the builder within one year after the homeowner has knowledge of the defect.  Therefore, the one-year “clock” may begin to run when the homeowner gains knowledge of the problem even if the NHWA provides a longer time-period to advance the claim.

A failure by the homeowner to give timely notice can also diminish the claim even if it is brought within the deadlines. Under La. R.S. 9:3144(B)(4)(c), any damages caused by the homeowner’s failure to give the builder notice of the defect are not recoverable.  In that circumstance, builders often contend that the severity of the problem could have been lessened had they been made aware.

RECOVERABLE DAMAGES

With some exceptions, damages under the NHWA are limited to the actual damages incurred by the homeowner, including attorney fees and court costs arising out of the builder’s violation.  La. R.S. 9:3149.  The actual damages cannot exceed the reasonable cost of repair or replacement necessary to cure the defect.  If there are multiple defects across the home, damages are limited to the original purchase price of the home. 

Consequential damages such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, or loss of use are generally not recoverable.  See La. R.S. 9:3144(B); Iteld v. Four Corners Const., L.P., 12-1504 (La. App. 4 Cir. 6/5/13), 157 So.3d 702.  However, there may be exceptions to this general rule under certain factual circumstances beyond the scope of this post.

CONCLUSION

The NHWA provides important remedies to homeowners. But, the New Home Warranty Act is complex and balances the competing interests of the homeowners and the builders. For this reason, a failure to follow the notice and timeliness requirements will often defeat the claim. 


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

Louisiana COVID-19 Immunity Laws

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Louisiana legislature enacted and modified several statutes to limit the liability of individuals, businesses, and government agencies for exposure claims. However, the immunity is not absolute. While the immunity applies to “ordinary” negligence claims, it does not apply where acts are grossly negligent, wanton, or involve reckless misconduct. Further, as a condition to the protection afforded, the entity must show substantial compliance with the applicable COVID-19 procedures established by government authorities.

La. R.S. 9:2800.25, entitled “Limitation of liability for COVID-19” (the general immunity statute) provides that no person, business, or government entity shall be liable for injury or death resulting from exposure to COVID-19 through the performance of its business operations unless the entity failed to substantially comply with at least one set of procedures established by the federal, state, or local agency that governs the business operations, or the injury was caused by gross negligence or wanton, reckless misconduct. With respect to employer immunity, the statute provides that, regardless of whether an employee’s COVID-19 illness is covered under workers’ compensation law, the employee shall have no tort-based remedy against his employer unless the exposure was caused by an intentional act.

The exception to immunity in the general immunity statute calls into question the type of conduct that would rise to a level of gross negligence. Gross negligence is defined in Louisiana case law as “willful, wanton, reckless conduct that falls between intent to do wrong and ordinary negligence,” “lack of even slight care and diligence,” and “utter, complete or extreme lack of care.” While the definition does not provide a bright line rule, it reflects that the conduct must move well beyond simple negligence to defeat immunity.

For a business seeking to manage the risks arising from COVID-19, some best practices emerge: (1) monitor the COVID-19 procedures of government authorities to keep informed of the latest recommended or mandated procedures, (2) institute compliance protocols, (3) document and administer those procedures to show compliance, and (4) most obviously, avoid actions or omissions that may be construed as grossly negligent, wanton, or reckless.


Mary Anne Wolf is an engineer/attorney with a construction background who represents design professionals, contractors and others in construction litigation. She also gives seminars on the subject. She enjoys travel, yoga and encouraging her husband in his gardening and cooking endeavors.

A Decade Old Article Finds New Life: Televised Testimony

Courts across the country now grapple with the changing face of trials in a time of social distancing and spikes of COVID-19 complicated by the confines of the courtroom. Attorneys and litigants must also adapt to this new “normal.” In this setting, an older law may help to bring new technology into the courtroom.

COVID-19 spawned the immediate use of videoconferencing and other technology in the courtroom. Fortunately, over a decade prior to the current pandemic, the Louisiana Legislature adopted Louisiana Civil Code of Procedure article 1633.1 which expressly provides for live televised testimony at a trial. Pursuant to Article 1633.1:

The court may order, upon a showing of appropriate safeguards, live testimony of a witness to be presented in open court by teleconference, video link, or other visual remote technology, if the witness is beyond the subpoena power of the court or when compelling circumstances are shown. The order may be entered at a pretrial conference or, in exceptional circumstances, on motion set for hearing at least ten days prior to trial or at another time that does not prejudice the parties.

The Article, titled “Live trial testimony by video,” does not limit the live video testimony feature only at trial. Commentary suggests that the term “trial” is intended to include evidentiary hearings on exceptions as well as summary matters. The comments further provide that a showing must be made to the court’s satisfaction of appropriate safeguards, such as (1) reliable transmission procedures and image quality, (2) an orderly process for reference to exhibits by the witness and all counsel or parties conducting the examination, and (3) an absence of any outside influence on the witness during testimony. Even if all the parties agree to the use of live televised testimony, the Article nevertheless requires a court order.

Pursuant to the Article, the court may order televised testimony when “compelling circumstances are shown.” These circumstances may exist where a witness has a pre-existing condition or is restricted from live attendance by their physician.  They may also exist for witnesses barred from work-related travel by their employer.

Although adopted in 2007, Article 1633.1 remains largely unused by both courts and litigants; it appears its time has come.