Wrongful death cases get very complicated when they involve insurance companies and employers. In a recent case, an individual was killed in the scope of his employment with Dunham-Price, Inc. He was driving a concrete truck at the time. The individual’s family brought a wrongful death case against the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD). This case went to trial and awarded the individual’s wife and children $700,000 in damages, based on the finding that 50% of the fault was attributed to the DOTD and 50% of the fault was attributed to the individual driving the concrete truck.
This case seems like a classic wrongful death suit. However, it also involved two insurance companies, so it gets a little more complicated than it would first appear. There are two overreaching concepts in this case. The first is the third-party defendant and the second is appeals for partial judgments.
In most cases, there are two parties-one plaintiff and one defendant. However, the defendant also has the ability to call in parties who may be liable to the defendant should the court rule in the plaintiff’s favor. Insurance companies are usually privy to this type of liability. That is, if the defendant is found to be liable, then they have an insurance company that is supposed to cover them for that type of situation. In this case, DOTD called in two insurance companies: Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and Valley Forge Insurance Company (VFIC).
Third party defendants differ from a second defendant in that where there are two defendants, they could both be separately liable for the accident. For example, if there is a three-car pile-up and two cars hit one car at virtually the same time, then they could be both called into court. In a third-party defendant case, the third party should help compensate the defendant even though they were not liable for, or even remotely involved in, the accident itself.
The other concept that this case illustrates is appeals for partial judgment. In this case, VFIC stated that although they prove insurance for DOTD, the policy did not cover for the type of accident that the concrete driver experienced. Therefore, they sought a summary judgment to dismiss the claim against them. Summary judgment occurs when there are no material disputes of fact and one party is therefore entitled to have the decision run in their favor. This type of motion allows the court to throw out cases where there is a clear winner and bringing the case in full would be a waste of the court’s time. VFIC’s argument was that if the policy did not cover the accident then they cannot owe DOTD anything, as a result, they could not be involved as a third-party defendant.
The Court agreed with VFIC and granted the request for summary judgment. DOTD then proceeded with the rest of the case involving the family of the deceased. At trial, as mentioned, DOTD lost and was ordered to pay damages. Therefore, DOTD appealed the judgment and sought to also appeal the summary judgment that the Court granted for VFIC.
However, there is a time limitation in which a party is allowed to appeal. In Louisiana, parties have sixty days to appeal or seek a new trial after a final judgment. In the course of the other portion of the trial, DOTD’s sixty days had run, and although they were still in trial with other parties, the issue with VFIC was complete. Because VFIC was removed from the case previously, the grant of summary judgment constituted a partial final judgment and the sixty days to appeal started to run when the notice of judgment was served. Therefore, DOTD could appeal the rest of the case, but could not appeal the summary judgment granted to VFIC because its time limit had expired.
There were many procedural intricacies involved in this case. These intricacies require competent legal representation to navigate.
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