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.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are calling for stronger safety measures aboard oil platforms after an explosion on a Lake Pontchartrain oil rig left multiple workers injured and one worker missing. Five workers sustained critical burns from the blast, while two others sustained trauma-related injuries. A search-and-rescue mission was sent out for the missing employee, whose body was recovered five days after the explosion. The explosion occurred on October 15th, two miles from Kenner and around twenty miles north of New Orleans in an incorporated area of Jefferson Parish.

According to the City of Kenner Government, the platform (used for the transfer of oil) ignited because of cleaning chemicals that were not sufficiently hosed off. The explosion could be heard from miles away and houses up to 10 blocks away “actually shook from the boom.” Many of the employees on the platform were rescued subsequent to the explosion as fires continued to burn on the platform.

The environmental impact of the explosion is yet to be determined. The Coast Guard will continue to test the surrounding waters to determine if large amounts of oil were deposited into Lake Pontchartrain. Many Kenner residents have gone to social media to voice their concerns about the potential future environmental impacts of the explosion. Lake Pontchartrain is part of a larger ecosystem called the Pontchartrain Basin, an area consisting of many rivers, bayous, and swamps that could potentially be impacted by oil from the explosion. South Louisiana citizens are fearful of a similar situation to the Deepwater Horizon disaster seven years ago.

In an important maritime law decision protecting seaman all over the county, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Louisiana verdict secured for an injured maritime worker. Attorney Blake R. David (lead counsel) and J. Derek Aswell of Broussard & David represented the plaintiff. Guidry v. Tanner Marine, 16-61 (La. App. 3rd Cir. 10/19/16), 206 So.3d 378, writ denied (La. 1/23/17) 209 So.3d 90; writ denied (U.S. 6/12/17) 2017 WL 1494663.

In Guidry v. Tanner Services, a St. Landry Parish trial court found Ernest Guidry to be a seaman under the Jones Act and awarded general and special damages of $3,885,911.69. A 16,000 pound vibrating hammer fell on Guidry causing the amputation of his four fingers, a crushed foot, herniated discs in his neck and back, concussion, depression, post-traumatic stress, and total and permanent disability. The verdict was upheld by the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and the Supreme Court of the United States — the final judgment with judicial interest totaled over $4,280,000.00.

Defendant, Tanner Services, LLC, was awarded a contract to construct a bulkhead in Grand Isle, Louisiana beginning in January 2012. The Defendant used three barges and two tugboats to move the equipment, supplies, and store materials, as well as to act as “floating docks” or “work stations” for a crane and preparatory welding. The project also used floating mats described as a large piece of wood similar to a “raft.” Guidry spent the majority of his time on the floating raft. Previously, Guidry had been strictly a land-based shop welder for Tanner. The trial court found that he was reassigned to do maritime work, and that this reassignment changed his status to a Jones Act seaman who can recover for his catastrophic losses from his at-fault employer. The court also found that the raft was an appurtenance to the crane barge.

Jerome Moroux of the law firm Broussard and David, recently obtained a settlement of over $3.2MM on behalf of an offshore worker who sustained  an injury while entering a vessel in Vermilion Parish. The incident was unwitnessed and occurred as the worker was crossing the gangway that was not properly secured on the vessel.

Initially, the worker believed he had sustained only a twisted ankle. As he continued working offshore, however, plaintiff’s pain continued to worsen. He was ultimately diagnosed with CRPS in his right ankle and received a spinal cord stimulator in his low back for right ankle pain. Plaintiff also treated for depression following his injury.

The case was defended by ABC Boats and Doe’s employer, which denied liability and the extent of damages claimed. As to liability, defendants asserted that plaintiff misjudged the step from the gangway to the deck; defendants focused on the fact that plaintiff had provided multiple accounts of the accident to his various doctors and company representatives. Additionally, ABC Boats’s Captain testified that he observed the gangway one hour before the accident and it was properly secured; also, three passengers boarded the vessel in the hour before plaintiff and had no problems with the gangway. Concerning damages, defendants questioned the diagnosis of CRPS and denied that plaintiff’s psychological trauma were in any way related to the accident.

A slip and fall accident in Las Vegas, Nevada resulted in an eleven-day trial where the jury returned a verdict of more than $16 million to a plaintiff who fell in a Lowe’s Home Center, fracturing her skull and causing a hemorrhage in the front of her brain. Because of her injuries, she has suffered from multiple long-term medical issues such as chronic neck pain, headaches, anxiety and depression, issues with balance, and she has forever lost her senses of taste and smell.

On the date of the fall, the plaintiff, Kelly Hendrickson, was walking through a Lowe’s garden department when she was purchasing plants for her new home. At the same time, the watering system for the plants in the store created puddles in the areas where customers walked. Although a warning cone was placed within the puddle itself, there were no warnings in the surrounding areas of the puddle and the cone was not visible to Hendrickson when she turned the corner into the aisle where she fell.

After plaintiff’s fall, three different Lowe’s employees passed her without offering to help. Another customer and her daughter came to her aid. As Hendrickson waited for further help to arrive, she asked for a bottle of water, which the cashier required her to purchase. Help arrived and she was taken to the hospital. Upon examination in the emergency room, medical professionals discovered her injuries, including a skull fracture and subarachnoid hemorrhage.

An interesting case recently arose out of the Northern District of California. A ferry boat captain was found partially responsible for a collision in which he was using his cell phone in the minutes before his boat wrecked into a speedboat on the San Francisco Bay.

In February of 2013, Harry Holzhauer and David Rhoades were traveling by speedboat in the San Francisco Bay when a ferry crashed into their boat. The driver, Holzhauer, was killed in the collision and Rhoades, who owned the boat, was seriously injured. The widows of Holzhauer and Rhoades both filed claims against the ferry captain and the ferry owner, alleging the captain negligently used his cell phone immediately before the accident occurred.  At the trial, Plaintiffs presented evidence that showed that the ferry made a course and speed change about two minutes before the collision and that the captain of the ferry made a two-minute cell phone call at 4:07 pm, just before the 4:09 pm collision.

After hearing the evidence, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of $5,276,306, broken down as $3,729,559 to Rhoades and $1,546,747 to Holzhauer. Further, the jury found the ferry Captain to be 30% at fault and Holtzhauer 70% at fault, reducing Holtzhauer’s award to $464,024.00.

In the District Court of Harris County, Texas, a jury awarded over $40 million to owners of oil production facilities nearly 12 years after Hurricane Rita struck the Gulf Coast. The oil company plaintiff hired experienced trial lawyers to bring their claim before the civil justice system and hold their insurer accountable for the damages suffered.

In 2005, Prime Natural Resource owned oil and gas drilling platforms off of the coast of Morgan City. These platforms were insured by underwriters at Lloyd’s, London. Hurricane Rita struck Prime’s wells in September 2005 causing over $20 million in damages, including debris removal and restoration. Despite being aware of the damages for over 10 years, the insurance company repeatedly claimed its policy did not cover this particular damage. The policy covering the oil and gas drilling platform was a Wellsure policy, one often used in the energy industry. The Underwriters admitted that they insured the platform, but refused to pay for any individual parts of the well damaged by the Hurricane.

Both the trial court and court of appeals refused to look beyond the language of the insurance contract granting summary judgment in favor of Lloyd’s. The court’s looked to the intent of the parties in interpreting the policy. On appeal Prime brought four causes of action in front of the District Court: (1) breach of contract, (2) unfair or deceptive acts under the insurance code, (3) failure to promptly pay claims, and (4) breach of common law duty of good faith. After a six-week trial, the jury awarded $27.3 million in punitive damages, while also finding the insurers both breached a contract, as well as, violated the state insurance code. In addition to the punitive damages, Prime was awarded $10.9 million in bad faith, $1.8 million in actual damages, and $1.6 million in legal fees.

Lafayette Consolidated Government, in partnership with Bike Lafayette and Broussard & David, LLC, will host the second annual Bicycle Safety Festival on Saturday, May 20 at Parc Sans Souci from 9 a.m. until noon.

Bicyclists of all ages are invited to participate in the free event which will feature bicycle safety instruction, bike helmet fitting, and bicycle inspections.

“The aim of this event is to help cyclists and motorists become more knowledgeable about bicycle safety and the rules of the road,” said Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux. “As Lafayette embraces a more bicycle-oriented mindset, bicycle awareness is becoming even more essential. Through this approach, we can make the roads safer for all users.”

A recent Fifth Circuit per curiam opinion proves to be a lesson for maritime and admiralty attorneys in how to preserve issues on appeal, particularly in Jones Act jury trials.

In 2014, Plaintiff Richard Bosarge applied for employment with Cheramie Marine, L.L.C. and was hired as a relief captain. While on duty, Mr. Bosarge sustained injuries to his back when he was tossed out of his bunk when his vessel hit a large wave. Cheramie responded by arguing that the waves were not violent and alleging that Mr. Bosarge never reported any injuries to his superiors, other than some seasickness.

Mr Bosarge sued his employer under the Jones Act to recover for his back injuries. During his pre-employment physical examination, Mr. Bosarge denied having any prior back pain or injury, although he had sought medical care for back pain in the past. At trial, Defendant’s medical expert was able to compare pre-injury and post-injury MRIs of Mr. Bosarge’s back, and testified that the post-injury MRI showed less injury than the pre-injury MRI. The jury returned a zero verdict and Plaintiff appealed.