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Louisiana Court Holds City Not Liable for State Employee’s Negligent Conduct That Harmed Inmate Being Transported According to City-State Agreement

In an appeal addressing liability for negligent conduct that led to injuries in a car accident, the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal focused on rules of contract interpretation.  Language within an airbagsagreement must be interpreted according to the common intent of the parties, which means assessing the general, plain meaning of the words in the contract. In this case, the issue was whether an agreement between the City and the State precluded the City’s liability for negligent acts by State employees.

The plaintiff in this case suffered injuries in a car accident as a passenger in a van when the driver collided with another vehicle.  The plaintiff, an inmate passenger, was being transported as part of an Interagency agreement between the City of DeRidder and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The City owned the vehicle, and the driver worked for the State. The City argued that the State should be held responsible for the negligent conduct of its employees, despite the fact that the City was responsible for transporting inmates.

The City moved for summary judgment on the ground that while they owned the van, this fact of ownership did not make them liable for damages resulting from a State employee’s negligent conduct.  After the State did not file an opposition to the motion and waived their right to appear, the court granted the City’s motion.

In their discussion, the appellate court stated that appeals cannot be made by a party that acquiesces, voluntarily and unconditionally, in a judgment against it. But, the court made clear, this acquiescence must be clearly demonstrated and is not to be presumed.

In this case, the State did not file an opposition and waived its right to appeal at the hearing on the motion for summary judgment.  The court stated that waiving the right to appear does not mean the party acquiesced to the trial court’s judgment. Although the State waived its right to appear and did not file an opposition to the motion for summary judgment, the court stated it did not clearly demonstrate it acquiesced to the judgment.

The State argued that summary judgment was not warranted and, among other reasons, asserted that the City’s insurance should cover a driver operating a vehicle with the City’s permission. In response, the City argued that Louisiana law states that a vehicle owner is not responsible for damages caused by a third party’s driving. Additionally, the City argued that the agreement made clear it would not be liable for damages from negligent conduct by a State employee.

The issues, the court stated, were whether the agreement expressed the intent of the parties when a State employee wrecks a City-owned vehicle and whether the City should pay for liability insurance for State-employed drivers.

The agreement, which should be interpreted according to principles of contract law, stated that the City would not be legally responsible for damages caused by the negligence of a State employee. Instead, the State would be responsible for any negligent acts performed by its employees.

Turning to the facts, the court stated that the City owned the vehicle, and the driver was a State employee. Since the driver’s negligent conduct harmed the inmate, according to the agreement, the State should be liable for damages caused by the driver.

Since there was a clear agreement between parties that stated the City would not be held liable for negligence by State employees, it was the intent for the City to not be held liable when a State employee engaged in negligent acts.

The court stated the trial court properly dismissed the demands and claims against the City.

At Lavis Law, our car accident attorneys assist Louisiana collision victims.  We have years of experience interpreting insurance contracts and offer a no-obligation consultation. Contact our office by calling 866.558.9151.

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