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Louisiana Appeals Court Finds Professional Liability Insurance Policy Ambiguous and Holds in Favor of Injured Deputy Sheriff on Negligence Claims

The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal recently addressed an insurance coverage dispute in a personal injury lawsuit following a work-related injury suffered by a deputy sheriff while supervising trustee inmates. At issue in the case were the extent of liability coverage and ambiguities in the insurance policy exclusions and definitions. Plaintiff Jackie Doucet worked as a deputy sheriff for the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Department and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff.  He was injured while watching inmates at an automobile repair shop. Mr. Doucet attempted to sit in a chair and it collapsed, causing him to fall to the floor and suffer injuries to his right arm and shoulder. Mr. Doucet received continuing medical treatment and surgical procedures for his injuries. The Sheriff’s Department paid him his full salary and employment benefits, despite his inability to work. The Department also paid for his medical expenses and medical insurance premiums. After being advised that his compensation and benefits would terminate, Mr. Doucet brought a lawsuit, together with his wife’s loss of consortium claim. The Sheriff and the Sheriff’s Department were named defendants, as was the insurance company for the Sheriff’s Department.  The trial court held that the insurance policy at issue in this case was the “Police Professional Lability Policy.” The trial court found that there were ambiguities in the Policy and denied the insurer’s exceptions and motion for summary judgment. The insurance company appealed.

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Louisiana Appellate Court Upholds Summary Judgment Motion in Favor of Insurance Company Rejecting Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage for Widow of Deceased Car Accident Victim

In this appeal, the wife of a man fatally injured in a car accident brought a lawsuit against the driver of the other vehicle and their insurance company, as well as the insurer of her husband’s vehicle. The court assessed whether the lower court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, dismissing the case. Specifically, the court reviewed choice of law issues concerning the relevant automobile policies. Oswalda Rangel, the wife of the deceased, filed a personal injury claim on behalf of herself and her minor children, naming the driver of the other vehicle, Felipe Vega-Ortiz, the owner of Mr. Vega’s vehicle, and the insurer, Affirmative Insurance Company, as well as the insurer of Mr. Medina’s vehicle, Progressive Mountain Insurance Company.  Progressive moved for summary judgment on the ground that it did not provide uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage when the collision took place.  The trial court granted the motion, and Ms. Rangel filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied. On appeal, Ms. Rangel claimed that the trial court should have made a conflict of law determination before granting Progressive’s motion and should not have applied Georgia law without first conducting a conflict of law analysis.  She also alleged the relevant uninsured/underinsured (“UM”) rejection was invalid.

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Louisiana Appellate Court Upholds Agreement Between Injured Employee and Her Attorney Regarding Payment of Attorney Fees in Workers’ Compensation Case

In a recent opinion, the Louisiana First Circuit addressed whether the workers’ compensation judge had properly amended the award of attorney fees following the injured employee’s acceptance of a settlement award.  In this case, the court addressed the issue of the payment of attorney fees in a workers’ compensation case, and whether a signed contract for the payment of fees can be amended by the judge. The court here determined that the record supported the award of attorney fees as agreed to by the parties, the injured employee and her attorney. The facts of the workers’ compensation claim demonstrated that Malaysia Brown worked for C&S Wholesale Grocers and suffered injuries in the course and scope of her employment. Ms. Brown hired Ms. Johnson-Griffin to represent her regarding her workers’ compensation claim, and she filed a disputed claim for compensation. Before trial, Ms. Brown’s claim with C&S was settled, and a joint petition for the approval of a workers’ compensation compromise settlement was filed.  Ms. Brown would receive a lump sum of $135,000 in full settlement of her claim from the accident, and with $125,000 of that sum “allocated to future medical treatment.” The settlement also stated that Ms. Brown would pay attorney fees to Ms. Johnson-Griffin for $27,000 from the settlement proceeds.

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Judgment in Louisiana Personal Injury Lawsuit Dismissing Certain Defendants Not Final Because Genuine Issues of Material Fact Remained Regarding Whether Accident Occurred and Liability

Recently, the Louisiana First Circuit addressed the issue of shared fault for a car accident in a personal injury lawsuit involving multiple defendants. Specifically, the court in this opinion stated that defendants have a right to have the issue of liability determined in light of the doctrine of comparative negligence. The court also stated that any parties aggrieved have an actual interest in the appeal.  Plaintiff Justin Cotton brought a lawsuit for damages after a motor vehicle accident in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  He contended that as Patrick Kennedy, the driver in the other vehicle, and he turned right in adjacent lanes, Mr. Kennedy veered into his lane and struck his vehicle.  Mr. Cotton sued Mr. Kennedy, Bread Bizz, Inc. (Mr. Kennedy’s employer and the owner of the vehicle), and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company as the liability insurer (referred to collectively as “Bread Bizz defendants”).

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