Tag: litigation

The Louisiana Legislature Overhauls the “Direct Action” Statute

For decades, Louisiana law provided a claimant or injured person an uncommon opportunity (1) to directly name an insurer in a lawsuit, and (2) to make the jury aware of the presence of insurance. This was known nationally as the “Louisiana Direct Action Statute.” This statute, embodied in LSA—R.S. 22:1269, has long been a topic of debate.

The Louisiana Legislature recently amended the “direct action statute” in Act 275 and declared that the injured person “shall have no right of direct action against the insurer” unless at least one of the exceptions applies: the insured files for bankruptcy, the insured is insolvent, service cannot be made on the insured, a tort cause of action exists against a family member, uninsured motorist claims, the insured is deceased, or when the insurer issues a reservation of rights or coverage denial (but only for the purpose of establishing coverage). The Act further provides that the insurer shall not be included in the caption of the case. And, the existence of insurance is not to be disclosed unless the Louisiana Code of Evidence requires it. This new legislation is effective August 1, 2024.

But, the Act also provides for new provisions that allow for the joinder of an insurer after settlement or in connection with a final judgment. The Act further includes specific provisions enacted to provide notice to an insurer of an action and outlines the procedures and timelines for how insurers assert reservation of rights or a denial of coverage.

The revisions to LSA—R.S. 1269 represent a significant change in how lawsuits involving insurance companies will proceed.

Class Action Basics: What Are They and When Are They Certified?

Sometimes, a number of people or parties will file claims, in which each party alleges the same or similar injuries that were caused by the same or similar conduct. In these circumstances, federal and Louisiana law recognize class actions as procedural devices that can be used to aggregate the parties’ claims into a single action.

The purpose and intent of class action procedure is to adjudicate and obtain res judicata effect on all common issues applicable to the representatives who bring the action. However, this res judicata effect also applies to all others who are “similarly situated,” provided they are given adequate notice of the pending class action and do not timely exercise the option to exclude themselves from the class. Class actions are commonly filed in matters that involve common facts and damages such as plant explosions, claims based upon allegedly defective products, or claims involving employment practices or civil rights violations.

Before a court can hold a trial on the merits of a class action, the court must determine whether all of the procedural requirements are met for certification of the class. In making this determination, the court rules on whether the matter may proceed as a class action or whether the named parties must bring individual claims. In Louisiana, the threshold requirements for class certification are found in La. C.C.P. art. 591(A), which provides:

A.      One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all, only if:

(1) The class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.

(2) There are questions of law or fact common to the class.

(3) The claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class.

(4) The representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

(5) The class is or may be defined objectively in terms of ascertainable criteria, such that the court may determine the constituency of the class for purposes of the conclusiveness of any judgment that may be rendered in the case.

Every one of these requirements must be met for an action to be maintained as a class action. Stated differently, the class cannot be certified if even one of these threshold requirements is not met. A party seeking class certification must also establish one of the additional requirements outlined in La. C.C.P. art. 591(B).

In Doe v. Southern Gyms, LLC, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that a court must conduct a “rigorous analysis” of the class certification requirements, to ensure that every one of them are satisfied before a case is certified as a class action. Moreover, it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove that every requirement of La. C.C.P. art. 591 is satisfied. While only the procedural requirements for class certifications are relevant to determine if a matter should be certified, the “rigorous analysis” required of the court oftentimes requires analysis of the overlapping merits of the plaintiff’s underlying claim. See Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes.

Whether a matter should be certified as a class action is often a contested issue involving high stakes. If it is certified, the matter proceeds as a class action, where the claims are asserted on behalf of the entire class and can result in substantial damage awards. If the matter is not certified, the claim representatives must pursue their claims individually, which leads to significantly less exposure for defendants named in the action.

Case References:

Doe v. Southern Gyms, LLC, 2012-1566 (La. 3/19/13), 112 So.3d 822, 829.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, — U.S. —, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2550, 180 L.Ed.2d 374 (2011).

When a Settlement Is Not a Settlement

Louisiana law favors the settlement of disputes. With a settlement, both sides agree to avoid costly litigation and obtain a certain, negotiated result. While neither side is completely happy with the result in a typical settlement, the case is at least closed and the financial and emotional drain of litigation is ended. But the recent decision in  The Marietta Trust and The Warren Trust v. J.R. Logging, Inc., Fair Hills Farm, LLC, Jerry Avants, Jr., Thomas Keaty, Jr. and XYZ Insurance Company, 2016 CA 1136 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/11/17) shows what can happen when one of the parties change their mind. This case is important because it calls into question whether an exchange of emails is sufficient to reach a final settlement.

The Marietta Trust case involved a dispute regarding the wrongful cutting of timber and the parties seemingly came to a resolution.  Via email, the case was negotiated and the terms were agreed upon. Formal settlement documents were drawn up and money was exchanged.  However, when the time came to execute the final documents, one set of defendants refused to sign the paperwork. This refusal to sign came after the attorney for these defendants directly stated in an email that his “clients have agreed to the settlement.” Id. at *4. In response to the refusal to sign, the other parties filed a Joint Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement which was denied by the Trial Court.

Settlement agreements are governed by the Louisiana Civil Code art. 3071 which provides that litigation can be resolved via settlement or compromise.  A settlement agreement can take two forms: 1) recitation in open court; or 2) a writing.  “The purpose of the writing requirement is to serve as proof of the agreement and the acquiescence therein.”  Marietta Trust, 2016 CA 11336, Id. at *3. The writing must be signed by the parties or their agents.  “Until the parties sign a written document or documents evincing their consent to the terms of the proposed agreement, a party is free to change his or her mind.”  Id. at *3. Prior courts have found that emails meet the “writing” requirements. See, Geer v. BP America Production Co., 2014-450 (La. App. 3 Cir. 11/5/14), 150 So. 3d 621; Dozier v. Rhodus, 2008-1813 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/5/09), 17 So. 3d 402.

The appellate court in Marietta Trust  refused to enforce the “settlement.”  The court found that the exchange of emails was insufficient to meet the “writing” requirement of Civil Code article 3071 because neither the emails nor any other evidence showed that the attorney possessed “the express consent necessary to accept the terms of the settlement.” Id. at *3.

When is a settlement not a settlement? Maybe when it came to you through your inbox. So, if an email from the attorney is not sufficient to perfect a settlement, what can we do? The answer offered by the 1st Circuit is to either: 1. Recite in open court; or 2. Obtain a writing that includes the client’s express consent given to the attorney to settle the case (presumably for the amount in the writing).

Discovery in a Digital World

The image of a law firm stuffed with banker boxes floor-to-ceiling is shifting to the view of a computer server filled with gigabytes of information. This is increasingly a digital world and the documents, photographs, charts, memos, and emails that are the “stuff” cases are built upon now often come in digital form. As a result, great emphasis is placed upon “electronic discovery.”