Justia Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
by
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to determine whether a stamped signature on an uninsured/underinsured motorist (“UM”) coverage rejection form, affixed by the administrative assistant of the corporate insured’s owner and president, complied with the statutory requirement that the UM form be signed by the named insured or his legal representative. Because the stamped signature was affixed on behalf of the legal representative and not by the legal representative himself, the Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeal that the lack of prior written authorization to the administrative assistant rendered the UM form invalid. View "Havard v. JeanLouis, et al." on Justia Law

by
Lia Kazan (“Lia”) visited an Alexandria, Louisiana motel to meet some friends. During the course of her visit, she went went to the motel parking lot to retrieve something from her vehicle. Anthony Murray, another motel guest, exited his room and approached the vehicle with Lia inside. Audio from the camera footage recorded Lia screaming “stop,” “no,” and calling for help accompanied by repeated honking of the vehicle’s horn. Murray then started the ignition and, with Lia in the passenger seat, reversed out of the parking lot onto the service road. The vehicle was later found submerged in Lake Dubuisson – the bodies of Murray and Lia were recovered in the water. Lia’s death was classified as a homicidal drowning. Ali Kazan and Ebony Medlin filed suit, individually, and on behalf of their daughter, Lia (collectively “Plaintiffs”) against several parties, including the motel’s owner, Vitthal, LLC, and its insurer, Great Lakes Insurance Company SE (“Great Lakes”), seeking damages for Lia’s kidnapping and death. In response, Great Lakes filed a petition for declaratory judgment averring it had no obligation under the operable commercial general liability policy (“the CGL Policy”) to defend or indemnify the other defendants. Great Lakes moved for summary judgment on its petition arguing the CGL Policy contained an exclusion – specifically defining “assault,” “battery,” and “physical altercation” – which barred coverage for Lia’s kidnapping and death. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to determine whether an insurance policy, by its own terms, excluded coverage for damages arising from a kidnapping resulting in death. The Court found the clear and unambiguous language of the relevant policy exclusion barred coverage. View "Kazan et al. v. Red Lion Hotels Corporation, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether the district court had jurisdiction over a claim for penalties against an insurer arising from its failure to provide a defense in workers’ compensation proceedings, and, if so, whether the insurer violated its duties of good faith and fair dealing, thereby making it liable for damages and penalties. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded the district court had jurisdiction over the claim and correctly found that the insurer breached its duties to its insured. However, the Court found the district court’s damage award rose to the level of an abuse of discretion. The judgment of the court of appeal was amended to award damages in favor of Cox, Cox, Filo, Camel & Wilson, LLC and against Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation in the total amount of $61,655.00, representing $20,550.00 in special damages and $41,100.00 in penalties. View "Cox, Cox, Filo, Camel & Wilson, LLC v. Louisiana Workers' Compensation Corporation" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Calvin and Mary Landry filed a petition for damages, alleging they suffered injuries arising out of an automobile collision. Plaintiffs brought the action against defendant-driver Riyad Shaibi, his insurer Financial Indemnity Company (“Financial”), and Progressive Security Insurance Company (“Progressive”), as the insurer of the 2008 Toyota Sienna that Shaibi was driving at the time of the collision. Shaibi was bringing the 2008 Toyota Sienna to a tire shop to repair a flat tire as a favor to its owner, Aziz Ali. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review of this matter to address whether the court of appeal erred in finding public policy mandated liability coverage by a defendant driver’s automobile insurance policy for an accident occurring while operating a non-owned automobile. Under the narrow facts presented, the Court found neither statutory law nor public policy considerations required automobile insurance liability coverage related to a defendant driver’s negligent operation of a non-owned vehicle. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeal and reinstated the ruling of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant insurer. View "Landry v. Progressive Security Ins. Co., et al." on Justia Law

by
This dispute over uninsured motorist ("UM") coverage arose from a motor vehicle accident on Louisiana Highway 6 near Natchitoches. Martin Baack, an employee of Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, was driving his work vehicle when he was struck by a vehicle driven by Michael McIntosh. The vehicle Baack was driving belonged to PPC Transportation Company. Both Pilgrim’s Pride and PPC Transportation were subsidiaries of JBS USA Holdings, Inc. (“JBS”). McIntosh was determined to be solely at fault for the accident and pled guilty to improper lane usage. Baack and his wife filed suit individually and on behalf of their minor daughter naming as defendants McIntosh, his insurer, and Zurich American Insurance Company (“Zurich”) in its capacity as the UM provider for PPC Transportation’s vehicle. In JBS’s policy with Zurich, PPC Transportation was listed as a Broad Named Insured. The Baacks sought damages under Zurich’s UM coverage as well as penalties and attorney fees based on Zurich’s failure to timely settle the claim. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted consolidated writs to determine whether an insured’s initial UM coverage waiver remains valid where, upon consecutive renewals, the insured submitted new signed and dated UM forms without initialing the blanks provided to reject UM coverage. Based on the Court's interpretation of the UM statute, it found such a subsequently submitted form changes the prior rejection and operated to provide UM coverage. Additionally, finding no error in the quantum of damages and denial of penalties and attorney fees by the court of appeal, the Court affirmed. View "Baack v. McIntosh et al." on Justia Law

by
Because the Louisiana Supreme Court found in its original opinion that plaintiffs had a right of action under La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2, their constitutional challenge was pretermitted and “that part of the district court judgment declaring [these code articles and La. C.C. art. 199 to be] unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption” was vacated. Having found on rehearing that the codal analysis of La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2 and 199 foreclosed a right of action to the plaintiff children, who were given in adoption, for the death of their biological parent and half-siblings, the Supreme Court was called on to address the propriety of the district court’s declaration that La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2, and 199 are “unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption.” The Court found a rational basis existed for limiting the categories of eligible claimants in La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2 to those who “are likely to be most affected by the death of the deceased.” Children given in adoption “have moved into a new parental relationship, becoming children ‘by adoption,’ who are eligible claimants in the unfortunate occurrence of the tortious death of their adoptive parents. Likewise, the transfer of children into a new parental unit as children ‘by adoption’ terminates, for purposes of wrongful death and survival actions, any connection between the ‘children given in adoption’ and any biological siblings who were not ‘given in adoption.’” For these reasons, the district court legally erred in finding that the fact that Daniel Goins and David Watts were adopted did not prevent them from bringing survival and wrongful death claims for the deaths of their biological father and biological half-siblings and in overruling the defendant’s exception raising the objection of no right of action. The Supreme Court's original decree was vacated and the district court's judgment was reversed. Judgment was entered sustaining the defendant insurance company's peremptory exception raising the objection of no right of action, and dismissing the claims that were the subject of this exception. View "Rismiller et al. v. Gemini Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against two defendants: a property owner and her alleged liability insurer. The insurer was served with the petition, but plaintiff withheld service on the property owner. The insurer filed an answer on its own behalf within three years of suit being filed, but no action was taken in the suit by any party relative to the property owner within that three years. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to determine whether plaintiff’s action against the property owner was abandoned pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 561(A)(1). The court of appeal found the filing of an answer by the insurer within the three-year abandonment period was effective to interrupt the abandonment period as to the property owner. The Supreme Court held the filing of the insurer’s answer did not serve to interrupt the abandonment period as to the property owner; therefore the appellate court was reversed because plaintiff’s original action against the property owner was abandoned by operation of law. However, the Court found plaintiff’s underlying claims against the property owner, that were subsequently reasserted by amended petition, were not necessarily prescribed due to the potential interruption of prescription resulting from the pending suit against an alleged solidary obligor. Because a determination regarding prescription could not be made based on the existing record, the court of appeal’s ruling on the property owner’s exception of prescription was affirmed, and the matter remanded to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on that exception. View "Williams v. Foremost Ins. Co. et al." on Justia Law

by
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this case to determine whether the court of appeal properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendant Louisiana Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company (“Farm Bureau”), where Farm Bureau argued that the “regular use” exclusion in its automobile insurance policy issued to plaintiff precluded uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage, because plaintiff was operating a vehicle owned by his employer at the time of the accident. The plaintiff in this matter, Charles Higgins, was injured in an automobile accident while operating a truck owned by his employer, AT&T. The other driver in the accident was underinsured, and AT&T did not carry UM coverage on the truck. Higgins subsequently filed the instant suit against his personal UM insurer, Farm Bureau. Because the Supreme Court found the policy’s “regular use” exclusion impermissibly derogated from the requirements of the Louisiana uninsured motorist statute (the “UM statute”), La. R.S. 22:1295, the Court found this exclusion inapplicable and reversed the decision of the court of appeal. View "Higgins v. Louisiana Farm Bureau Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
Defendant Gemini Insurance Company appealed a district court's holding La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2 and 199 were “unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption” and overruling the defendants’ peremptory exceptions of no right of action. At issue was whether plaintiffs Daniel Goins and David Watts, two adult children who were given in adoption as minors, had a right to bring wrongful death and survival actions stemming from the deaths of their biological father and his two minor children, who were not given in adoption, and were plaintiffs’ biological half-siblings. After a de novo review, based on the clear and unambiguous wording of La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 and 2315.2, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded Goins and Watts were “children of the deceased” and “brothers of the deceased” who were permitted to bring wrongful death and survival actions arising from the death of their biological father and half-siblings. In view of the Court's holding that plaintiffs had a right to assert survival and wrongful death actions, the Court declined to address their argument that La. C.C. arts. 2315.1, 2315.2 and 199 were unconstitutional as applied to children given in adoption. View "Rismiller v. Gemini Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to determine whether “collectibility” was a relevant consideration in a legal malpractice action. Specifically, the issue presented was whether plaintiff’s damages in this legal malpractice action were limited to the amount she could have actually collected on a judgment against the tortfeasor in the underlying lawsuit. Elaine Ewing was injured in an automobile accident in 2015, when her vehicle was hit by a vehicle driven by Marc Melancon. Her counsel failed to forward the original petition for damages within seven days as required by La. R.S. 13:850. The original petition was filed on April 22, 2016, after the one-year prescriptive period had passed. Ms. Ewing’s suit was dismissed on an exception of prescription. Ms. Ewing subsequently filed a legal malpractice action against her attorney and Westport Insurance Corporation, counsel's malpractice insurer. Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment asserting the court should apply the “collectibility rule.” Defendants alleged Ms. Ewing’s recovery could be no greater than her potential recovery in the underlying personal injury lawsuit, and recovery in this case should have been capped at Mr. Melancon’s insurance policy limits. The Supreme Court held that proof of collectibility of an underlying judgment was not an element necessary for a plaintiff to establish a claim for legal malpractice, nor could collectibility be asserted by an attorney as an affirmative defense in a legal malpractice action. View "Ewing v. Westport Ins. Co., et al." on Justia Law