Unincorporated Associations and Immunity– Annually, the “Jingle All the Way 5K Run” is held on a course that begins in Natchez, Ms. and crosses the old Mississippi River Bridge to Vidalia, La. Normally, the “new” bridge is solely used by eastbound traffic. Nevertheless, to accommodate the race, it accepts traffic in both directions during the event. In Byargeon v. Concordia Chamber of Commerce, Inc., 15-900 (La. App. 3 Cir. 3/16/16), – – So.3d – – – (2016), it was alleged that Ms. Byargeon was not alerted to this change. Tragically, she was involved in a head-on collision that took her life.
Numerous parties were sued following the accident including members of an unincorporated association named MissLou Regional Healthcare Committee. In response to the Petition, the association members argued that they were immune to liability by statute. Alternatively, they argued that they could not be held responsible because the police possessed exclusive control of the roadway. The defendants’ Exceptions of No Cause of Action were granted by the trial court, but reversed by the Third Circuit as outlined below.
With respect to immunity, the defendants relied on LSA-R.S. 12:506 which provides immunity to the members of an unincorporated association as a result of their membership. However, according to the Byargeon Court, the statute does not create an unqualified immunity against negligent acts perpetrated by members of the association. Therefore, the statute did not provide a shield from liability to individual members of the association who may have individually performed acts or omissions which lead to the death.
The Third Circuit also reversed the trial court’s ruling with respect to control of the roadways. Pursuant to LSA-R.S. 32:1 et seq., the state police force possesses the duty to address traffic on state roadways. Nevertheless, the Byargeon court cited to an earlier Supreme Court decision in Blair v. Tynes, 621 So.2d 591 (La. 1993) which held that, when a private entity assumes duties with respect to a traffic plan or roadway, it is required to execute that “assumed duty” in a non-negligent manner.