Tag: Louisiana

Supreme Court Abrogates Louisiana’s “Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine”

Historically, Louisiana law provided that a professional rescuer injured in the performance of his or her duties “assumes the risk” of an injury and is not entitled to damages. See Worley v. Winston, 550 So.2d 694, 696 (La. App. 2 Cir.), writ denied, 551 So.2d 1342 (La. 1989). This is known as the Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine and applied as a defense to claims raised by firefighters, policeman, and others. The doctrine prevented recovery because the professional rescuer “assumed the risk” of injury. Recently, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Doe v. McKesson, 2021-00929 (La. 3/25/22) rejected the doctrine as a bar to suit by the professional rescuer.

In Doe, the Supreme Court of Louisiana accepted a certified question from the Fifth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals as to the viability of the doctrine. In response, the Supreme Court held that the Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine has been abrogated in Louisiana both legislatively under La. C.C. art. 2323 and jurisprudentially in Murray v. Ramada Inns, Inc., 521 So.2d 1123, 1132 (La. 1988).

The Court cited La. C.C. art. 2323(A), which provides that the fault of “all persons […] shall be determined” in a civil action. Subsection (B) of the article provides this rule applies “to any claim for recovery of damages for injury, death, or loss asserted under any law or legal doctrine or theory of liability, regardless of the basis of liability.”

In Murray, the Supreme Court previously held that the doctrine of assumption of risk no longer had a place in Louisiana tort law following the adoption of comparative fault. Nevertheless, the Murray Court identified two exceptions:

  • Cases “where the plaintiff, by oral or written agreement, expressly waives or releases a future right to recover damages from the defendant,” if “no public policy concerns would invalidate such a waiver, the plaintiff’s right to recover damages may be barred on a release theory;” and
  • “[I]n the sports spectator or amusement park cases (common law’s “implied primary” assumption of risk cases).”

Murray, 521 So.2d at 1134. (internal citations omitted).

The Doe court observed that Murray provided no exception relative to professional rescuers. The Court further observed that, while the legislature had enacted statutes that bar plaintiff recovery in other settings, no such statute had been passed to codify the Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine.

Although professional rescuers injured in the performance of their duties may still be found at fault, the is no longer an automatic bar to suit.

Supreme Court Clarifies “Good Cause” for Additional Medical Opinion (“AMO”)

In cases that involve physical injury, defendants often request an “Additional Medical Opinion [AMO]” from a physician of their choice as part of the defense of the case. Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1464 allows a defendant to select a physician to perform a physical and/or mental examination of a plaintiff to challenge the plaintiff’s claimed physical and mental injuries. At times, a plaintiff may voluntarily agree to the examination. However, if an objection is lodged to the requested examination, a defendant must proceed with a Motion to Compel the Additional Medical Opinion. In the context of the motion, the defendant must establish the following for the AMO to be ordered pursuant to article 1464:

  1. The mental or physical condition of a party is in controversy; and
  2. “Good cause” exists for the AMO.

Because Louisiana courts routinely hold that a plaintiff puts his or her physical and mental condition in “controversy” by filing suit and requesting damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, the focus of a motion for an AMO is often on the “good cause” requirement. “Good cause” is not defined in La. CCP article 1464, and its meaning is not clear. Recently, however, the Louisiana Supreme Court provided guidance on the issue in the case of Hicks v USAA General Indemnity Company, et al., holding that a showing of “good cause” requires that a moving party establish a reasonable nexus between the requested examination and the condition in controversy.

In Hicks, the defendant moved for an AMO with an orthopedic surgeon after plaintiff filed suit, alleging personal injuries to his neck, back, and arm as a result of an accident. In the context of the Motion to Compel, it was argued the plaintiff put his physical condition in controversy by alleging injury. The defendant noted plaintiff treated with two physicians, one of whom did not believe plaintiff was a surgical candidate. The defendant also maintained “good cause” existed because a plaintiff “who asserts mental or physical injury… places that mental or physical injury clearly in controversy and provides the defendant with good cause for an examination to determine the existence and extent of such asserted injury.” In support of this argument, the defendant also highlighted inconsistent medical testimony concerning plaintiff’s physical conditions and treatment in support of “good cause.”

In opposing the motion, the plaintiff argued “good cause” was absent because two physicians already had offered opinions on plaintiff’s condition and treatment.

The trial court denied defendant’s Motion to Compel AMO on grounds that “good cause” did not exist. The trial court noted that two physicians already had been deposed and that a physician selected by the defendant could review plaintiff’s medical records and the depositions of the other doctors to offer an additional medical opinion at trial. The case proceeded to trial, where the defendant introduced testimony from a physician who relied upon the materials referenced in the court’s ruling to support his medical opinion. Not surprisingly, the plaintiff argued the opinion of the defendant-selected physician should be discredited because he never examined plaintiff.

After a trial judgment in favor of plaintiff, the defendant appealed. The appeal court also concluded “good cause” did not exist for the AMO, noting the absence of “definitive guidelines as to what constitutes good cause.”  The appeal court also noted the fact that defendant had the ability to obtain the desired information by other means was relevant in deciding whether good cause was shown.

The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions. It started its analysis by noting the basic premise of our system of justice: that both sides to a dispute stand on equal footing in gathering evidence and preparing for trial. It noted the AMO allowed under La. CCP article 1464 actually limits the extensive discovery permitted under Louisiana law, as it balances considerations of “sanctity of the body and the right to privacy with considerations of fairness in the judicial quest for truth.” Article 1464 seeks to achieve balance by requiring more than “relevance” for an AMO, granting the right to courts to order an AMO only when a plaintiff’s condition is “in controversy” and “good cause” supports allowing the examination. The Supreme Court also noted that an AMO may be one party’s only opportunity to independently ascertain the existence and extent of the other party’s claimed injuries.

After balancing these competing interests, the Louisiana Supreme Court found “good cause” under article 1464 requires the moving party to establish a reasonable nexus between the requested examination and the condition in controversy. The decision as to whether the moving party has demonstrated both the “in controversy” and “good cause” requirements lies in the sound discretion of the trial court. At times, the pleadings alone may contain sufficient information to establish a reasonable nexus.

As part of its decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court noted that although meeting the statute’s requirements may entitle a defendant to an examination, a defendant is not entitled to any AMO it request; reasonable limitations may still be applied. It remains the trial court’s role to balance the competing interests and rights of the parties, considering both “sanctity of the body” and the implication of one party’s privacy rights against considerations of fairness for the moving party.

After employing its analysis, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the defendant in Hicks demonstrated “good cause” because plaintiff alleged severe injuries as a result of the accident, claimed damages, and inconsistent medical testimony concerning plaintiff’s physical condition existed. It remanded the case for a new trial.

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.”

Employment Law – New Statute Changes the Rules on Hiring

Effective August 1, 2021, La. R.S. 23:291.2 will impact the hiring practices used by many employers.  Under the new statute, unless otherwise allowed by law, “when making a hiring decision, an employer shall not request or consider an arrest record or charge that did not result in a conviction, if such information is received in the course of a background check.” This is a dramatic change for employers who consider arrest histories in the hiring process. But the statute does not stop with arrest records.

When considering “other” types of criminal history records, i.e., convictions or pleas,  an employer “shall make an individual assessment of whether an applicant’s criminal history record has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that may justify denying the applicant the position.” In this assessment, the employer is to consider:

(1) The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct;

(2) The time that has elapsed since the offense, conduct, or conviction; and,

(3) The nature of the job sought. 

Upon written request, an employer shall also make available to the applicant any background check information used during the hiring process. While an arrest is not proof an applicant engaged in criminal conduct, a conviction record is usually sufficient to show criminal conduct. See EEOC guidance at https://www.eeoc.gov/pre-employment-inquiries-and-arrest-conviction.

With convictions, the new Louisiana statute places a burden on the employer to make an assessment as to whether the criminal offense has a direct relationship to the specific job duties of the applicant. The statute gives little guidance as to how employers are to reach a conclusion.

At its core, the statute prohibits requests for arrests records and requires an employer to conduct an analysis as to whether a conviction is relevant to the job function before refusing to hire an employee on the basis of a conviction. The statute minimizes administrative burdens when it bars a consideration of arrests. Yet, it sets forth three factors employers must now weigh and measure for other criminal records. One reasonably asks how this statute- which appears designed to limit discretion in rejecting applicants with documented criminal records- will impact “negligent hiring” claims and other areas of the law.

Keeping Testimony of Future Medical Expenses “Out of the Gate”

In a recent case involving Keogh Cox attorneys, the Eastern District of Louisiana in Michael Brander, Jr. v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., Civ. A. No. 18-982 (Feb. 14, 2019), 2019 WL 636423 barred testimony of substantial projected medical expenses because it was not based on a reliable methodology. This ruling stands to impact many other cases where plaintiffs seek to use far-reaching projections of a life-long need for radiofrequency ablations (“RFAs”) or other pain-management modalities to “board” six and even seven-figure numbers for future medical expenses.  

In Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the United States Supreme Court recognized the trial judge as the “gatekeeper” of expert opinion testimony and held that only reliable and relevant expert opinions may be admitted.  The reliability requirement serves to keep expert opinions “outside the gate” when they constitute unsupported speculation or mere subjective belief; only scientifically valid expert opinions are allowed inside.  To ascertain whether an expert opinion is scientifically valid, Daubert instructs the trial court to consider:

            ∙           whether the expert’s theory can or has been tested;

            ∙           whether it has been subject to peer review and publication;

            ∙           the known or potential rate of error when applying the theory;

            ∙           applicable standards and controls; and,

            ∙           the degree to which the theory has been generally accepted in the scientific community.

In Brander, the plaintiff advanced medical testimony that he would need RFAs every year of his expected lifetime, a period of 36 years. The court disallowed the testimony, noting that the plaintiff’s physicians had less than ten years personal experience in administering RFAs to patients, the medical literature only considered the effectiveness of RFAs over a span of seven to ten years, and there was no showing that the 36-year treatment plan was in general acceptance by the medical community.  According to the court, the expert opinions offered by plaintiff failed Daubert “on all points.” As a result, the plaintiff was permitted to introduce testimony of future RFAs for only a seven-year period. 

The reasoning of Brander may be equally applicable to projections of lifetime treatment involving other medical procedures, such as medial branch blocks, Botox injections, or spinal cord stimulators, for which the long-term efficacy has not been firmly established in the medical literature. Opinions unsupported by personal treatment experience and peer-reviewed medical studies are not scientifically valid and are properly halted “at the gate.”

Nancy B. Gilbert is a partner with Keogh Cox in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She is a puzzle-solver by nature, and specializes in providing clear and in-depth analysis of complex litigation issues.  

Real Estate Liability: Recovery Denied in “As Is” Sale Despite Quick Discovery of Mold

In the recent case of Riedel v. Fenasci, 2018-0540 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/28/18), _______ So. 3d _______, 2018 WL 6818716, home buyers sued the sellers and the involved real estate agents after mold was discovered shortly following the sale. This is a common fact pattern in humid South Louisiana. The buyers lost in the trial court when there was no evidence that the sellers or the agents knew of the problem. The result was affirmed by the First Circuit Court of Appeal. 

The Riedels identified mold weeks after the closing and filed a claim with their homeowner’s insurer. But the claim was denied when the insurer’s inspection revealed long- term damage, rot, and deterioration in a ceiling due to water damage.  That finding prompted the suit.

Against the sellers, the Riedels contended that they “had to have known” about the moisture and mold in the home prior to the sale.  Because the home was sold “as is,” they had to establish fraud to recover. However, the sellers had not lived in the home for years and had received no complaints from tenants over this time. Under such facts, the claim of fraud was not supported.

The Riedels also sued both agents for negligent misrepresentation, and their own agent for breach of fiduciary duty.  In assessing the claim against the agents, the Riedel Court agreed that real estate agents are liable for negligent misrepresentation when they fail to disclose hidden defects in the property which were known or should have been known to them. The Court also agreed that a purchaser’s real estate agent owes a fiduciary duty, the highest duty of care recognized by law.  Nevertheless, when the plaintiffs’ own inspector found no visible evidence of mold prior to the sale and there was no indication that the agents possessed prior knowledge of the mold, the claim against the agents was also dismissed.

Marty Golden has been practicing law based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for over thirty years, concentrating in civil litigation primarily involving injuries, property damage, insurance coverage, and contract disputes. Much of his practice is defending and advising real estate agents in suits by property buyers and sellers, but Marty also defends other professionals, insurance companies, manufacturers, and business owners. Marty has a special interest in all things procedural, because they are the rules of the road for litigators and knowing them better than his opponent gives him a leg up in court.

Nursing Home Liability: Big Brother is Watching Granny?

    As an integral theme to his best-selling novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell once used the slogan: “Big Brother is Watching You.” This slogan embodied the idea that a person’s actions and intentions are being monitored by the government as a means of controlling and suppressing the will of the populace.

    Although not as extreme as Orwell’s dystopian novel, Louisiana families will now be able to install video monitoring systems in their loved ones’ nursing home rooms pursuant to Act 596 of the 2018 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature. According to the “Nursing Home Virtual Visitation Act,” nursing homes can not prohibit the cameras or retaliate against residents who want to install them. The video systems will monitor residents who often cannot speak for themselves.

However, several requirements must be met to abide by the Act:

  1. The resident, or family if the resident lacks capacity, must provide notice of installation to the facility;
  2. Visual recordings must include date and time;
  3. The device must be stationary and fixed, not oscillating;
  4. Residents must pay all costs for installation, upkeep, and removal;
  5. Written consent is required from all roommates;
  6. Room changes are required if a roommate does not consent;
  7. Residents and applicants cannot be retaliated against for authorizing devices; and
  8. Signage must be installed at the front door of the facility (at the facility’s cost) and at the resident’s room (at the resident’s cost) advising of surveillance in the rooms.

    Furthermore, nursing homes must provide forms to nursing home residents, or their legal guardians, outlining the ways the cameras can be installed. Under the Act, surveillance should be addressed at admission as a resident right. To promote compliance, the Act prohibits the use of any recordings in litigation when the device was installed or used without the nursing home’s knowledge or used without adherence to the required forms. Additionally, compliance with the Act is a complete defense against lawsuits brought purely because monitoring devices are in use.

    Nursing facilities and the families of residents and patients should take care to comply with all of the requirements in the act to ensure that the video footage is actually admissible and that the facilities are not opening themselves to privacy lawsuits from other residents.  “Big Brother” might not be watching, but the increase in affordable, high quality, surveillance cameras, coupled with the Virtual Visitation Act, means nursing facilities should anticipate that someone could be watching very soon.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage: Making Smart People Feel Dumb

I have met smart, sophisticated “business” people whose eyes glass over when they try to explain their understanding of “UM” coverage. The picture becomes murkier when discussing “economic-only UM,” a form of UM coverage many people purchase without even knowing it. Through many years and conversations, I have come to conclude that there is a general fogginess that obscures this entire subject with many, if not most, people. This blog is an effort to improve understanding on the subject.

What is “UM” Coverage?

“UM” signifies “uninsured motorist” insurance coverage, but is more properly described as “uninsured/underinsured” motorist coverage. A person, family, business, or group purchases UM coverage to respond to damages caused in an accident by someone who has either no insurance or not enough to cover the loss. You purchase UM insurance to protect yourself or those connected to you. Without UM, you are gambling that the person who caused the accident (the “tortfeasor”) will have insurance coverage, and enough coverage, to respond to the injuries and damages they have caused.

Why UM?

This question is simply answered in a two-part response:

#1- The roads are dangerous

Unless you are a crop duster or an undercover agent, the most dangerous thing you will likely do on any given day is to drive on a public road, even more so in the age of “smartphones” and distracted-driving.

#2- Many drivers lack sufficient liability coverage- 

An unhealthy portion of drivers have either no insurance on insufficient insurance coverage to address an accident involving severe injuries or damages. The State of Louisiana requires motorists to obtain at least the minimum insurance of $15,000 “per person,” $30,000 “per accident,” and $25,000 to address property damage. If you do not purchase UM, you are trusting that these limits will be enough, as they might be in a minor accident. But what if the injuries are severe or you have multiple passengers in your car, van, or suburban?

Often, the same people who reject UM, will buy “collision” coverage on their car to make sure they are not left paying for a car note after the car is destroyed in an accident. In this limited way, you can think of UM insurance as collision coverage on you, your family, passengers, or employees.

While perfect statistics are not available, many drivers on the road have no insurance. Frequently, drivers will obtain minimum limits insurance through a “premium finance” arrangement, but will have stopped paying the premiums (thereby losing coverage) by the time of an accident.

What is “Economic-Only” UM?

In Louisiana, UM coverage will be afforded to you unless you “waive” the coverage under La. R.S. 22:1295. Louisiana residents are presented with a form that allows them to waive or select UM coverage. They are also allowed to select “economic-only” UM. People often choose this option because it is cheaper, but economic-only UM coverage will only pay for economic damages such as lost wages, medical bills, funeral costs, and other monetary damages. Economic-only UM will not pay money to compensate for pain and suffering/mental anguish, scarring and disfigurement, or other non-economic damages.

FAQS      

  • Can UM protect me from a hit-and-run driver? Yes.
  • What if another driver’s negligence caused the accident, but there was no physical contact with that driver’s vehicle and they fled? In this scenario, UM may be available under La. R.S. 22:1295(1)(f); however, you will need to identify an “independent and disinterested witness” to establish the actions of the unidentified driver.
  • Will UM protect me if I am at fault in an accident? No. The law would consider that a “moral hazard” and invite unscrupulous individuals to cause an accident in hopes of recovering under the policy they purchased.
  • Will UM protect me if I am a pedestrian? It may, depending upon the terms of your insurance policy.
  • What if an object falls from a vehicle and causes an accident? UM may be available in this circumstance. The ultimate answer may depend upon whether the “falling object” had come to rest before the accident. Rener v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 99-1703 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/05/2000), 759 So.2d 214, 215.

CONCLUSION

Rational people may decide to reject UM to save money; and this decision may be the right one if they have health insurance, short-term disability, long-term disability, or others such protections. However, people often make such decisions with less than full information. Hopefully, you will make the smart choice.

The “Collateral Source Rule” & How it Can Cost (or Make) You Thousands – Part I

Imagine you are a defendant sued because you negligently injured someone in Louisiana.  In the accident, the plaintiff received extensive medical treatment. The health insurer paid $50,000 for medical costs even though the doctors billed $150,000 for the plaintiff’s care. The plaintiff was only out-of-pocket $500 for his health insurance deductible. What amount should you have to pay: $150,000, $50,000, or only $500?

The answer to this question is not so simple. You will certainly have to pay more than the plaintiff’s deductible, that much is clear. But whether you are required to pay the medical providers’ full rate of $150,000, the insurer’s discounted rate of $50,000, or some other amount for the medical services provided is a more complicated issue.

This blog is broken down in a two-part series. This installment will address the background of the collateral source rule and the public policy behind the rule.

What is the Collateral Source Rule?

The collateral source rule provides that a tortfeasor is generally not entitled to a credit for payments made to a plaintiff through “collateral sources,” i.e., sources not provided by the defendant. Under this rule, a tortfeasor’s exposure for damages should be the same regardless of whether or not the plaintiff purchased health insurance.

The collateral source rule permits the plaintiff to recover medical expenses in excess of the amounts actually paid by the plaintiff or their insurer. Critics therefore assert that the rule provides a “windfall” to the plaintiff that violates the goal of Louisiana tort law, namely to make the victim “whole.”  As applied, the rule can make the victim more than whole.

Origins of the Collateral Source Rule

To understand the collateral source rule, it helps to look at its origins. The rule in the United States at least dates back to the 1854 case The Propeller Monticello v. Mollison, 58 U.S. (17 How.) 152, 15 L.Ed. 68 (1854). In Propeller Monticello, two ships wrecked and one sank. The insurer of the ship that sank paid for the loss. The owner of the at fault ship asserted that the plaintiff had been fully compensated by the insurer’s payment and that it was therefore not obligated to pay for the damage. In rejecting this argument, the Propeller Monticello Court held the defendant was not a party to the insurance contract and could not reduce exposure by citing to the insurance available to the plaintiff.

Policies Behind the Collateral Source Rule

In Dep’t of Transp. & Dev. v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., 846 So. 2d 734 (La. 5/20/03), the Louisiana Supreme Court detailed the public policy concerns that support the collateral source rule. According to the court, the policies in favor of the rule include:

i.  Fairness– a defendant should not gain an advantage from benefits provided to the plaintiff independent of any act of the defendant;

ii.  Deterrence– the rule provides a deterrence to negligent conduct; and,

iii.  Promotion of Insurance– victims could be dissuaded from purchasing insurance if that act could affect tort recovery.

So, how much do you owe: $50,000, $150,000, or some other amount? We’ll tell you in Part II of this blog.

Trees and Neighbors: A Growing Problem

Louisiana is a river delta state filled with fertile land and the refusal of its local fauna to stay within boundaries is a problem.  Trees create hazards. They also bring nuisance in all its forms––pine sap drizzled over a new car, an oak branch casting a sun-blocking shadow over the perfect tanning spot, and on and on. If you own the tree, the problem is easy enough to address; but what if the tree belongs to your neighbor? Can you cut your neighbor’s tree?