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SERVING ALL OF LOUISIANA AND MISSISSIPPI

In the News

Car Dealership and Insurer not Liable for Negligence of Customer Driving Loaner Vehicle

The firm’s Mississippi attorneys secured summary judgment in favor of a car dealership and repair shop that was sued in the Circuit Court of Prentiss County, Mississippi. The suit arose from a motor vehicle collision allegedly caused by a customer driving a loaner vehicle. The plaintiff demanded $5 million in damages.

 

The plaintiff sought to attach liability to the car dealership and its deep pocket insurance policies on various theories, including that the customer was an “employee” of the dealership, that the dealership and customer were a “joint venture,” and that the customer was a “permissive user” of the vehicle.  These allegations required TWPD to develop a two pronged defense approach.  First, the firm won summary judgment defeating the initial claim that the customer was an “employee”, and then defeated plaintiff’s efforts to amend the suit to allege any other theories of liability.  With these victories, the state court suit was dismissed.  Second, the firm pursued a declaratory judgment action in federal court on behalf of the dealership’s insurer against the customer/defendant driver. The plaintiff in the underlying negligence action moved to intervene in the declaratory action, but was denied intervention. The United States District Court awarded judgment in favor of the insurer, holding that the insurer owed no obligation to defend or indemnify the customer because he did not qualify as an insured under the dealership’s policy.

 

TWPD’s two-pronged approach to proactively address the liability and insurance coverage issues resulted in a successful conclusion of this claim for the insurer, foreclosing any liability under the policy, and benefitted the insured dealership by eliminating any potential excess exposure for the collision involving its loaner vehicle.

Firm Secures Summary Judgment Regarding LHWCA Immunity Issue

TWPD secured vital application of federal law in applying the immunity provisions of the  Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”). In Hulin v. Huntington Ingalls, Inc., 2020 WL 307 2187,  plaintiff filed suit against Avondale Shipyards’ successor company and its executive officers seeking damages for contracting mesothelioma as a result of his alleged exposure to asbestos while employed at Avondale from 1956 to 1973. The plaintiff contended his exposures to asbestos occurred both while working on ships in the water and also while he worked on land.  Before 1972, a plaintiff was allowed to elect his remedy if he was injured on land and he could pursue a state tort claim against his employer in lieu of receiving workers’ compensation benefits.  Application of the LHWCA would bar the plaintiff’s tort claims, but plaintiff argued that state law and the law in effect at the time of the alleged exposure should apply, in which case the tort claim would be valid.  TWPD represented Lamorak Insurance, one of Avandale’s insurers, and joined in a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing the plaintiff’s claims were governed by the current version of the LHWCA and therefore barred by LHWCA's immunity provision. The federal court agreed, dismissing the plaintiff’s state law tort claims.  This ruling undermines 20 years of contrary state court rulings allowing these matters to proceed in tort and, going forward, will have great implications for all shipyard asbestos claims in Louisiana state and federal courts.

TWPD Secures Defense Verdict in Louisiana Premise Liability Matter

During a bench trial in New Iberia, LA District Court in September of 2020, TWPD successfully defended an apartment complex against plaintiff’s claims of a slip-and-fall. Plaintiff claims she was walking along the property’s sidewalk with her boyfriend and their three young children when she encountered an obstruction of concrete bags on the sidewalk, forcing her to cut through the grass. While walking through the grass, she claims she stepped in a hole in the ground obscured by uncut grass that caused her to fall and injure her foot. 

 

During plaintiff’s presentation of her case at trial, TWPD’s lawyers impeached several points of her testimony that contradicted her pre-trial deposition: including the size of the hole, the location of the alleged concrete bags, and where she fell on the property. Plaintiff also contradicted her own trial testimony on several occasions relative to her injuries – first claiming she did not cut her foot in the hole, then claiming she did cut her foot after she was shown medical records noting lacerations and debris removal on her heel. This testimony was not logical since she was wearing shoes at the time of the alleged accident. Finally, plaintiff’s own physician testified he had no information indicating the plaintiff’s foot injuries were caused by a fall at the apartment complex. At the close of plaintiff’s presentation, TWPD’s lawyers convinced the presiding judge to dismiss plaintiff’s case in its entirety without any further defense evidence required. 

Mississippi Attorneys Secure Summary Judgment in UM Matter

The firm’s Mississippi attorneys secured summary judgment in favor of their client regarding a UM matter. In addition to suing the two commercial trucking companies for negligence arising from a collision, Plaintiffs sued their own carrier for benefits under the UM/UIM coverage of their personal auto policy. Under Mississippi’s UM law, in order to have a claim for UM/UIM benefits, the claimant must establish that the tortfeasor is either uninsured or underinsured. To be “uninsured” within the meaning of the statute requires a showing that the tortfeasor has no liability insurance coverage or that the liability carrier has legally denied coverage for the accident. The definition of uninsured also includes an unidentified motorist when there has been contact that caused an accident.  For a motorist to be “underinsured” requires a comparison of all the tortfeasors’ liability limits applicable to the accident,with to the limits of coverage under the plaintiff’s own UM/UIM policy.Mississippi law allows the limits for each insured vehicle under the plaintiffs’ policy to be aggregated or “stacked” for purposes of this limits-to-limits analysis. Thus, in order to trigger a claim for underinsured motorist coverage under Mississippi law, as the plaintiffs did in this case,the insured plaintiffs must have UM/UIM coverage with limits of liability greater than the tortfeasors’ combined coverage.  In this case, the tortfeasors each had $3,000,000 in liability limits, for an aggregate of $6,000,000 in liability limits. The plaintiffs had an aggregate of $300,000 in UM/UIM coverage and, therefore were unable to satisfy their burden of establishing that the tortfeasors were “underinsured.”

The success we have seen is because of the way we built our practice. It’s about more than routine strategies. It’s about creative resolutions to difficult legal questions. It’s about how we treat our clients and each other and how we work together to build the best possible defense for every single case. It's practice, made perfect.