Sudden Shifts – Burden Shifting under Louisiana Law

Winning or losing in court often comes down to who possesses the burden of proof. Like a driver at a four-way stop, a litigant has to know when it is their turn.

Civil Procedure Article 966, the “Summary Judgment Article,” provides that the mover bears the burden of proof. The Louisiana Supreme Court recently addressed this burden in Dan Veuleman & Jody Veuleman v. Mustang Homes, LLC, 2013-C-190 (La. 4/5/13), – So. 3d – in the context of insurance coverage.

The general rule in Louisiana is that an insurer bears the burden of proving that a loss falls within a policy exclusion. In Veuleman, the insurer argued that the loss was excluded through a “work product” exclusion. However, the “work product” exclusion contained a “subcontractor” exception. The plaintiffs argued that the work was performed by a subcontractor and should for that reason be covered under the policy.

At the hearing, the insurer introduced its policy as evidence of the exclusion. However, it offered no evidence to show who performed the work at issue. The plaintiffs attempted to introduce an affidavit to establish that the work was performed by a subcontractor. The court of appeal rejected the affidavit as insufficient and concluded that the plaintiffs did not establish that their claims were spared from the work product exclusion.

The Louisiana Supreme Court disagreed. It stressed that the insurer, not the plaintiff, possessed the burden of proving that the policy exclusion applied. The Court stated that “[t]he insurer offered no proof to accomplish its burden.” Id. at 1. 

The Veuleman Court held that the appellate court “erroneously shifted the burden of proof on the motion for summary judgment” to the plaintiffs and that the insurer had the burden to show that “the exception [to the exclusion] is not met.” In keeping, the Court vacated the summary judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

The Veuleman decision reminds that a litigant should be aware when it is their turn to go.