NEGLIGENCE IN LOUISIANA PERSONAL INJURY LAW
Updated: Mar 1
Negligence occurs when the person’s conduct falls below an objective standard of care and that substandard conduct results in injury to another. The Louisiana negligence law specifically states, “every act whatever of man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it.”
Negligence plays a part in almost every personal injury case, including motor vehicle accidents. Therefore, understanding negligence is essential to Louisiana personal injury law. If you are injured in a car accident, Louisiana’s duty-risk negligence analysis determines who is responsible for the damages suffered. Proving negligence using the duty-risk analysis consists of the following components:
1. Cause in-fact 2. Duty 3. Scope of duty 4. Breach 5. Damages
Cause in Fact
The cause in-fact element contains two inquiries: the “but for” and substantial factor tests. Specifically, we look to whether the accident would occur absent the driver’s negligent conduct and/or whether the driver’s negligent conduct was a substantial factor in causing the harm. For example, if a driver is texting while operating his vehicle and fails to stop at a red light, rear ending another vehicle, we know that “but for” his texting and driving, he would have stopped at the red light, avoiding the accident. Likewise, the driver’s texting and driving are a substantial factor in causing harm to the driver he rear-ended.
The general rule for duty is an objective reasonable person standard. This is the level of care owed to the victim of a car accident by the defendant. Simply put, the “duty” element requires that the defendant owe a legal duty to the plaintiff to act with reasonable care so one party does not physically injure others.
Scope of Duty
Scope of the duty questions whether this defendant should be responsible for the injury to this plaintiff in this case. For this element, the law looks to foreseeability, ease of association, intervening/superseding causes, and certain policy factors. The analysis is as follows:
Was the risk foreseeable as it pertains to this particular plaintiff? Referring back to the texting and driving example, it is undoubtedly foreseeable that texting and driving will result in a car accident.
How easily is this injury associated with the negligent act? From our earlier understanding, we are aware that the injury would not occur if the driver did not text and drive. Therefore, the potential neck and back pain is easily associated with being rear ended by distracted driver.
Intervening/Superseding Causes are acts that occur between the negligent act and the resulting harm. For example, getting hit by a car on the highway while changing a tire after an auto accident versus getting struck by a lightning bolt while changing a tire after an auto accident. Getting struck by a lightning bolt is not a foreseeable or probable event, therefore, it would be considered a superseding cause and the defendant is not liable for those injuries to the plaintiff. However, the defendant is liable for injuries specifically caused by the car accident.
Pitre Policy factors – These factors are used to determine whether the defendant’s actions are in the scope of his or her duty to the plaintiff.
a. The need for compensation of losses. b. The historical development of precedents. c. The moral aspects of the defendant’s conduct. d. The efficient administration of the law. e. The deterrence of future harmful conduct. f. The capacity to bear and distribute losses.
Breach of Duty
Breach of the duty refers to whether the defendant fell below the objective standard of care. Here, we look to whether the defendant’s conduct was “unreasonable.” For example, driving under the influence of alcohol is unreasonable. A person who drives under the influence of alcohol and texts or talks on the phone while driving falls below an objective reasonable standard of care, thus, breaching their duty as a driver on the state’s roads and highways.
Finally, a plaintiff must prove actual damage by showing personal injury damages, out of pocket damages such as medical expenses or lost wages, or by showing damages to property. If either of these exist, the plaintiff will likely recover compensation from a negligent defendant who caused a car accident.
Comparative Fault and Negligence
Louisiana is a pure comparative fault state. When an accident occurs, fault is assigned to each and every party involved, including the plaintiff. For example, Anne is texting and driving and hits Bob. However, Bob’s brake lights are broken and other drivers can’t tell when his vehicle is coming to a stop. In this situation, the law assigns a percentage of fault to Anne for her negligent texting and driving, and Bob for his negligent failure to repair his brake lights.
The factors to be considered when assigning fault were enumerated in Watson v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance Co. The Watson factors include:
1. Whether the conduct resulted from inadvertence or involved an awareness of the danger. 2. How great was the risk created by the conduct? 3. The significance of what was sought by the conduct. 4. The capacities of the actors, whether superior or inferior. 5. Extenuating circumstances which might require the actor to proceed in haste, without proper thought; and 6. The relationship between the fault/negligent conduct and the harm to the plaintiff.
Your Personal Injury Claim
Hiring an attorney experienced in auto accident reconstruction and fault determination is crucial in determining potential recovery. Many accidents and injuries are the result of someone else’s negligence, but it is important that the injured party be aware of his role, if any, in the accident as well. The attorneys at Gaynell Williams, LLC are dedicated advocates who pursue full and just compensation for clients who have been injured in auto accidents. If you are injured in an auto accident, contact our office to explore your legal options.
At the Law Office of Gaynell Williams LLC, we have attorneys readily available to assist after you are involved in an automobile accident. Our attorneys will ensure that you receive fair compensation for any personal injuries or property damage that you sustained, and appropriate medical attention to alleviate injuries after an automobile accident.
If you have been injured in a car accident as a result of the negligence of another driver, or if you have suffered property damage due to the negligence of another driver, contact Gaynell Williams today at (504) 302-2462 for a free, no obligation consultation. Evenings and weekend sessions are available by appointment. We will work around your schedule. New Orleans personal injury lawyer Gaynell Williams, L.L.C. has offices in Gretna and Downtown New Orleans (by appointment only) to serve victims of auto accidents, work related accidents, medical malpractice, and wrongful death.
This information has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney in connection with any specific situation under federal and/or Louisiana law and the applicable state or local laws that may impose additional obligations on you and/or your family member. © 2020 Gaynell Williams LLC Attorney at Law L.L.C. has offices in Gretna and Downtown New Orleans (by appointment only) to serve victims of auto accidents, work related accidents, medical malpractice, and wrongful death.