Tia Coleman is calling the defense of Branson Duck Vehicles and Ripley Entertainment “callous and calculated” following a duck boat accident on July 19, 2018. Nine of Coleman’s family members and eight others were killed when the amphibious boat capsized during a storm. Ten days later, Coleman and her attorneys filed a $100 million wrongful death suit against the two companies, but the defendants have cited an 1851 law known as the Shipowners’ Limitation of Liability Act.

According to the law, a shipowner may limit damage claims following an accident to the value of the vessel and any pending freight so long as he can prove that he lacked knowledge of the vessel’s problem beforehand. Because the duck boat in question was a total loss with no value following the accident and there was no pending freight, Ripley and Branson’s attorneys are claiming zero liability. Needless to say, the 167-year-old law was originally written for a different purpose. At the time, maritime insurance did not exist. Thus, in creating the law, Congress hoped to encourage vessel purchases and maritime transport by guaranteeing protection for sea-vessel owners in case of an accident.

Following a Coast Guard investigation of the accident, probable cause of negligence was found on the part of the boat’s captain, though the defense contests this finding. On the basis of the finding, Coleman and her attorneys filed an additional federal lawsuit in September against the boat’s operator and manufacturer. “This tragedy was the predictable and predicated result of decades of unacceptable, greed-driven and will ignorance of safety by the boat industry,” the suit states. If such an argument holds and the accident is proven to have been the “predictable” result of “willful ignorance”, it is possible that the Shipowners’ Limitation of Liability Act will be deemed inapplicable in this particular case.

Blake-Trial-Ad-200x300

Blake R. David has been teaching advanced trial techniques to LSU Law students entering their final year of law school since 2016. David is a 2001 graduate of the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at LSU.

Read more:

https://www.law.lsu.edu/news/2018/08/14/lsu-law-thanks-trial-advocacy-program-faculty-members/

This week, a panel of five federal judges denied a motion filed by oil companies seeking to consolidate forty-one separate lawsuits against them for coastal land loss and other damage caused by oil and gas exploration, production, and transportation in five Louisiana Parishes, including Vermilion Parish, which is represented by Richard Broussard, partner at Broussard & David. The defendants saw the oil companies’ motion as a delay tactic and the judges apparently agreed.  “The (panel) had no trouble recognizing the most recent efforts of large oil corporations to postpone a trial through procedural maneuvering,”  said Broussard. “Their effort to further stall a judgment requiring them to clean up their mess was soundly rejected.”

Further reading here:

Big Oil loses effort to consolidate Louisiana coastal restoration litigation

Royal Caribbean International may have to pay $20.3 million to a former employee, who badly injured her hand while working on board a Miami-based cruise line, Voyager of the Seas, which was sailing out of Barcelona, Spain. In August of 2008, Lisa Spearman, a marketing and revenue manager for the cruise ship, severely injured her hand after attempting to help a nurse. While in port, the cruise ship conducted a routine fire safety drill. During this drill, some of the vessel’s semi-water right doors closed and one of the ship’s nurses she tripped and fell when she attempted to open and pass through one of the doors. The plaintiff jumped in to help the nurse, but when the plaintiff placed her hand on the door handle in an attempt to keep the door open, the door swung back and pinned the plaintiff’s hand. The nurse was unharmed, but the plaintiff suffered a broken middle finger, broken index finder, and the nails on both fingers were ripped from the cuticles.

After the injury, Royal Caribbean referred Spearman to a doctor in Barcelona. This doctor misdiagnosed her condition and incorrectly treated her injuries. Spearman participated in physical therapy for two years following the incident, while Royal Caribbean paid her a daily disability payment of $25.00, the amount stipulated in her employee disability insurance coverage. Two years after her injury, Royal Caribbean dismissed Spearman, stating that her injury prevented her from performing necessary safety tasks, such as lifting 50 pounds.

In 2016, Spearman brought suit against Royal Caribbean alleging the company was negligent regarding the door, failed to provide proper medical care, fired her for a non-performance related reason, and breached her employment contract by refusing to pay her full wages. After a three-week jury trial, the jury found Royal Caribbean at fault and ordered the cruise line to pay the plaintiff $20.3 million in damages, lost wages, and future medical expenses. Royal Caribbean will be appealing the decision of the trial court.

In Arceneaux v. Turner, et al., the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a Lafayette trial court’s ruling that denied uninsured motorist coverage to a plaintiff. The plaintiff, Gerald Arceneaux, owned a towing company. In November of 2014, he was involved in a car accident while driving a 2012 Ford F250. In a sworn affidavit, Arceneaux stated that he was “on call” when the accident occurred and that the truck he was driving was outfitted with all tools and equipment necessary for any road side service request. Typically, Arceneaux would drive a Ford F450, but that vehicle was in need of repairs. After the accident, Arceneaux filed suit and sought uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage from his insurer. The insurer defended by filing a motion for summary judgment claiming that the policy did not provide coverage for the plaintiff’s claims.  The trial court granted the motion and Arceneaux appealed to the Third Circuit.

On appeal, the issue before the court was whether the F250 Arceneaux drove on the day of the accident could be considered a “temporary substitute vehicle” for Gerald Towing’s Ford F450 Wrecker. Citing Louisiana law, the defendant-insurer argued that Arceneaux could not recover, because he was operating his personal vehicle at the time of the accident and that the F250 was not a covered vehicle under the policy.  However, Arceneaux countered that under the policy the Ford F250 was a “replacement motor vehicle covered under the terms of the policy.” Moreover, the policy states that insureds are anyone occupying a “covered auto” or a “temporary substitute for a covered auto.” To support his claim, Arceneaux pointed to his sworn affidavit in which he stated that the F450 was in need of repairs on the date of the accident, and that he used the Ford F250 to perform work that could or would have been completed by the F450, if it was in service.

Turning to the facts and evidence, the Third Circuit agreed with the plaintiff that the Ford F250 served as a temporary substitute for a covered vehicle, specifically the Ford F450 Wrecker. Therefore, Arceneaux was an insured under the policy at the time of the accident and could potentially recover under his UM coverage. The Third Circuit reversed the trial court’s grant of the insurer’s motion to summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

On the morning of Sunday, May 20, 2018, a helicopter crash in a marsh in St. Charles Parish claimed the life of one crew member and injured two others. None of the victims resided in Louisiana. One passenger died from his injuries in the crash and was pronounced dead at the scene. Another crewman suffered severe injuries possibly a fractured spine, but the pilot sustained less severe injuries. The pilot and crewmen worked for a company that Entergy subcontracted with to conduct routine inspections on transmission lines. According to the investigation, the helicopter’s landing gear caught on one of the power lines and caused the crash.

Three friends preparing for a cookout heard the crash and jumped into action to rescue any survivors. Due to the marshy terrain, the three men jumped into an amphibious vehicle to get to the crash site. Upon approaching the crash site, the men described a “frightening” scene with smoke billowing and the marsh grass ablaze around the downed helicopter. The rescuers took the crew’s helmets and started scooping marsh water onto the flames. One of the men took the pilot to a nearby road in order to direct first responders to the crash site. First responders were able to access the crash site via airboat and rescue the two survivors.

After an unfortunate crash like this one, Louisiana Law provides remedies for victims to recover for their injuries. Since the crash occurred during the course and scope of the passengers’ employment, the injured victims may seek worker’s compensation. Moreover, the family of the deceased crewmen may bring a wrongful death action pursuant to Louisiana Civil Code article 2315.2. The family members have one year from the date of this crash to bring the action to recover.

In Freeman v. Fon’s Pest Management, Inc., the Louisiana Supreme Court found that the lower courts erred in granting the defendant’s motions in limine and striking the expert testimony of four of the plaintiff’s experts. The lawsuit alleged that the defendant used a pesticide which contained a chemical called fipronil to treat plaintiffs’ home for termites. Following the treatment, plaintiffs began to suffer headaches, nausea, dizziness, and confusion. To prove causation, plaintiffs retained four different experts – three toxicologists and one Certified Industrial Hygienist. In response, the defendant pest management company filed pre-trial motions to exclude the testimony of plaintiffs’ experts, claiming their testimony did not meet the standard for admissibility under Louisiana Code of Evidence article 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

The district court granted the defendant’s motions in limine, striking plaintiff’s experts because it found: 1) none of the proposed experts had expertise regarding fipronil; 2) none of the four experts had written or contributed to any peer-reviewed articles regarding the effects of fipronil (or any pesticides) in humans; 3) none of the four experts attempted a dose reconstruction to determine the amount of exposure to fipronil allegedly suffered by the plaintiffs; 4) none of the experts reviewed any biological or air quality data to establish the plaintiffs were exposed to fipronil; and 5) no articles or studies reviewed by the experts proved any causal connection between fipronil and the plaintiff’s claimed injuries. In addition, the testimony of all four experts conflicted on the effects of fipronil exposure.

The court of appeal affirmed.

A jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana-Lafayette Division returned a verdict of $4,271,300.00 to an Iberia Parish resident who was injured while working at a Cameron facility at the Port of Iberia. Jerome Moroux, partner at Broussard & David, LLC, was lead counsel for the plaintiff. This is the fourth consecutive seven or eight figure verdict by Broussard & David, LLC.

The plaintiff was an employee of a trucking company/contractor on the day of the accident. Plaintiff’s employer had been contracted by Cameron to assist Cameron in loading a 300,000 pound piece of equipment on to plaintiff’s employer’s transporter. The job was shared between the companies, with Cameron performing the crane lift and Cameron/plaintiff’s co-employees working on securing the load. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was kneeling on the transporter and in the process of using a ratchet binder to secure the equipment to the transporter. While operating the binder, the ratchet binder came apart and plaintiff fell four feet to the ground. There was evidence that one of Cameron’s employees had handled the ratchet binder and given it to plaintiff’s co-employee before the accident.

Cameron denied liability completely, arguing that they had hired plaintiff’s employer to perform the work based on its experience and expertise; further, Cameron argued, that the failure of the ratchet binder was Bayard’s employer’s  fault—not Cameron’s. The evidence proved that Cameron actively participated in the job and was operating the crane while the accident happened. At trial, plaintiff offered expert and lay testimony confirming that, under both company and industry standards, the crane operator had several duties and responsibilities, including insuring that the proper tools for the job were examined before the job began and that the plaintiff’s employer performed and attended pre-job safety briefings. Secondly, Cameron failed to follow its own company rules with respect to pre-job planning. Plaintiff’s safety expert was Mr. Robert Borison.

In November of 2017, Galvan Alejandro Jr. and William Rhodes were traveling in Vernon Parish, Louisiana when Alejandro, the driver, lost control of the vehicle, went off the road, struck a culvert, and hit several trees. Despite wearing a seatbelt, Rhodes, the passenger, was ejected from the vehicle and killed. The driver sustained only moderate injuries. Suspecting alcohol and excessive speeding as causes for the crash, in January, Louisiana authorities arrested the driver for vehicular homicide and reckless operation.

Louisiana law defines “vehicular homicide” as “the killing of a human being caused . . . by an offender engaged in the operation of . . . any motor vehicle” when the driver is under the influence of alcoholic beverages or other intoxicants. If convicted of vehicular homicide, the driver can be fined and imprisoned for no less than five years and no more than thirty years. In addition to facing possible jail time, under Louisiana law, a drunk driver can face liability for punitive damages, which can be awarded in addition to compensatory damages in some cases. Louisiana Civil Code article 2315.4 states, “exemplary damages may be awarded upon proof that the injuries on which the action is based were caused by . . . a defendant whose intoxication while operating a motor vehicle was a cause in fact of the resulting injuries.”

Punitive damage awards can vary depending upon the facts of each case and even the location of the trial. For example, Broussard & David, LLC partner Blake R. David was lead counsel in Thibodeaux v. AFTCO, where a Lafayette Parish jury awarded punitive damages of nearly $15,000,000.00 against an intoxicated driver. In Calcasieu Parish, Broussard & David, LLC partner Blake R. David was also lead counsel in Tingle v. American Home Assurance Co., where the jury returned a verdict which included $5,000,000.00 in punitive damages where an intoxicated driver caused the death of a family’s two-year-old daughter. In Thistlethwaite v. Gonzalez, another case in which Blake David was lead counsel, a St. Charles Parish trial court awarded over $25,000,000.00 total in punitive damages against an intoxicated defendant driver.

LAKE CHARLES, LA – November 16, 2017

A Calcasieu Parish jury awarded $5,451,395.00 to a Venezuelan native who injured his neck and back when his Hummer SUV hit a cow on a rural state highway.

On the night of May 28, 2014, the plaintiff was driving on Louisiana Highway 27, headed home after a hitch working offshore as a petroleum engineer. Multiple cows appeared in the road as he was passing another vehicle on a dark and unlit stretch of Highway 27 which was adjacent to property owned by defendant Sweet Lake Land & Oil Company, LLC.

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