Your Short Term Wheelchair May Be Subject To a Hidden Defect Warranty

wheelchair_pattern_black_background_4Recovering from an automobile collision is already a difficult journey. Sometimes physical recovery does not occur in a straight line, and intermediate accidents can complicate the process. This was especially true for Alexandria resident Mr. Maricle. 

During his recovery from injuries due to a car crash, Mr. Maricle sustained further injuries due to a defective wheelchair supplied by Axis. Maricle filed a lawsuit in 2013 against Axis. In 2014, a trial court denied Axis’s motion for summary judgment; Axis appealed this denial and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order. Significantly, the Court of Appeals held that the only issue left was determining whether Axis failed to inspect the wheelchair. Based on that holding, the trial court denied the Plaintiffs’ summary judgment motion and granted Axis’ summary judgment because there were no visible defects prior to the wheelchair’s delivery to Maricle. 

Maricle presented numerous issues on appeal. The first issue was that La.Civ.Code art. 2317.1, used by the trial court to grant summary judgment, does not apply because that provision is only for owners or custodians of the defective item. Liability as an owner or custodian requires proof “that the thing was in the defendant’s custody and control.” Davis v. Am. Legion Hosp. Instead, Marcile argued that La.Civ.Code arts. 2696-97, which applies to lessors of an item and specifies a warranty that attaches to the lease, should apply because Axis was strictly liable as the lessor of the wheelchair. 

The appeals court agreed with Marcille, that the civil code regarding lessors applied in this case. By reviewing the facts of the case, the appeals court determined that Axis did not have custody or control of the wheelchair after delivering it to Maricle. Thus, La.Civ.Code arts. 2696-97 would apply.

The second issue presented on appeal was that the summary judgment was improper because there was proof that Axis leased a defective wheelchair that caused Maricle’s injuries. Plaintiffs argued that Louisiana’s lease articles apply to moveables, which would make the wheelchair subject to a lessor’s warranty against hidden defects. Further, Maricle contended that he did not need to prove the cause of the defect in light of Marien v. General Insurance Co. of America, 836 So.2d 239 (La. Ct. App. 2002). In Marien, the Court of Appeals held that, under La. Civ Code art. 2696, the lessee does not need to prove the cause of the defect but only that a defect exists. 

The Court agreed that this case was guided by Marien. Since Maricle leased the wheelchair from Axis, the Court had to determine whether there was evidence to prove the existence of a defect. After reviewing the evidence presented, the Court held that the trial court erred in granting Axis’ summary judgment motion because there was proof that Axis leased a defective wheelchair that led to Maricle’s injury. 

The third issue was that the Court of Appeals erred in the previous appeal by holding that the only issue left was whether Axis failed to inspect the wheelchair. Here, one contention was whether to apply the discretionary “law of the case” doctrine,which states that an appellate court will generally refuse to reconsider its ruling. Hernandez v. Louisiana Workers’ Comp. Corp. The Court decided that the case of law doctrine did not apply because Axis’s liability as a lessor was not presented as an issue in the previous appeal. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment. 

This case highlights the importance and complexity of employing the correct Civil Code articles in a negligence manner. Recovering from an injury is already a difficult path, especially when you have to navigate a negligence case and various civil codes. A good attorney can help ensure that the proper law is used to help one’s chances at full recovery. 


Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Elisabeth Tidwell

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