Louisiana summers are hot and humid. Suffocating. Temperatures in July and August regularly exceed 100 degrees, but the temperature inside a parked car is even higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the inside of a parked car can reach 130 to 172 degrees when the outdoor temperature is between 80 and 100 degrees. Cracking the windows or parking in the shade has little effect. Because it only takes 10 minutes for the interior temperature of a parked vehicle to rise 20 degrees, children and animals left alone for “just a few minutes” are at risk. On average, 37 children and hundreds of pets die of vehicular heat stroke each year. In an effort to address this problem, the Louisiana Legislature recently passed a law to encourage action.
The Legislature enacted two statutes to provide immunity from claims of property damage or trespass for any person causing damage to a motor vehicle while rescuing a minor or animal in distress. La. R.S. 37:1738 et seq. provides immunity if the person:
Makes a good-faith attempt to locate the owner before entering the vehicle.
Contacts local law enforcement, the fire department, or calls 911 before entering the vehicle.
Determines that the vehicle is locked and has a good-faith belief that there are no other reasonable means for the minor or animal to be removed from the vehicle.
Believes that removal of the minor or animal from the vehicle is necessary because the minor or animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm.
Uses force that was reasonably necessary under the circumstances to enter the vehicle.
Places a notice on the windshield of the vehicle providing details of the person’s contact information, the reason entry was made, the location of the minor or animal, and notice that the proper authorities have been notified.
Remains with the minor or animal in a safe location reasonably close to the vehicle until emergency responders arrive. If the person cannot remain with the minor or animal, the person must do the following:
For a minor: notify local law enforcement, the fire department, or the 911 operator and take the minor to the closest police station or hospital.
For an animal: notify local law enforcement, the fire department, animal control, or the 911 operator and take the animal to the closest shelter.
One wonders if a person reacting in an emergency will remember to leave a detailed note or to make the call before they act. If they do not, the immunity may be lost because immunity statutes are strictly construed in Louisiana. Also, the immunity does not apply to bodily injuries suffered by a minor during the rescue activities.
So, if you see a child or animal in danger in a hot car, the law now allows you to act with immunity, maybe.
When Casey Krueger and his family went to the pool at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Baton Rouge, they knew how they wanted to end their day. What the Kruegers (and La Quinta) did not know was that a piece of clear, broken glass was on the bottom of the pool. Mr. Krueger stepped on the glass and experienced a “large and deep cut” that caused permanent loss of some function of his toe. He filed suit alleging that La Quinta was negligent for the defective condition in its pool. Krueger v. La. Quinta Inn & Suites, 18-0052 (La. App. 1 Cir. 9/21/18). He also alleged the negligence of La Quinta was self- evident such that the doctrine of res ispa loquitur should apply to impose liability. His claims were rejected by the jury; the Louisiana First Circuit upheld the verdict.
“Res ipsa loquitur” is a Latin phrase that means “the thing speaks for itself.” The doctrine of res ipsa is used where a plaintiff relies solely upon circumstantial evidence to prove negligence. For res ipsa to apply, the plaintiff must: 1) prove that the injury is the kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; 2) eliminate other more probable causes of the injury (such as the conduct of the plaintiff or of third-persons); and 3) show that the negligence of the defendant fell within the scope of the duty owed to the plaintiff. Res ipsa is often cited where the defendant possessed exclusive control of the thing which caused the injury. Id.
In the Krueger case, La Quinta checked the pool twice a day and posted signs that banned glass from the pool area. There was also no evidence that it knew or should have known of the glass in the pool. After all, clear glass in a clear pool is hard to detect. Lacking direct evidence of negligence, the Kruegers hoped the res ipsa doctrine would make their case. With some justification, they contended that broken glass was not to be expected in a hotel pool. However, res ipsa was found not to apply. Because it was “possible that a third party caused broken glass to enter the pool,” the plaintiffs could not establish all three elements to the doctrine.
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 league tennis player, a cook, and a hobbyist writer.
The “open and obvious” defense remains alive and well in Louisiana according to an article penned recently by Professor John M. Church of the LSU Law Center for the Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel. In April 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court announced Broussard v. State of Louisiana, 2012-1238 (La. 4/5/13), 113 So.3d 175, which muddied the waters regarding use of the “open and obvious” defense. Some read Broussard as a pronouncement that the “open and obvious” defense was essentially dead in Louisiana. However, as reflected in Professor Church’s article, subsequent Louisiana Supreme Court decisions have given new life to the defense.
Louisiana premises liability law continues to evolve in the wake of the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision in Broussard v. State, 113 So.3d 175 (La. 2013). The Broussard decision was believed to limit the application of the open and obvious defense in the context of a Motion for Summary Judgment on liability.
The longstanding rule that the analysis for “piercing the corporate veil” of an LLC is substantially the same as the analysis for piercing the veil of corporations has been called into question by the recent Louisiana Supreme Court decision in Ogea v. Travis Merritt and Merrit Construction, LLC, 2013-1085, — So.3d —. In Ogea, the Court addressed “the extent of the limitation of liability afforded to a member of an LLC” and the statutory basis for exceptions to this limited liability.
The Louisiana Supreme Court recently issued a ruling on the application of the “open and obvious” doctrine in slip and fall cases. The facts of Broussard v. State of Louisiana, 2012-1238 (La. 4/5/13), presented problems for both sides. A UPS driver tripped and fell over an offset between the floor and an elevator. The elevator in a State building had problems for years. One problem was that the elevator would not align properly between floors causing an offset between the floor and the elevator. However, the UPS driver delivered products to this particular State building daily and was well aware of the problem. At the time of the incident, he noticed that the elevator was not properly aligned but nevertheless attempted to pull a dolly with approximately 300 pounds of computer paper over the offset. The inertia created caused the plaintiff to lose control. Plaintiff sued the State, the owner of the building, for injury to his back.