Louisiana Supreme Court Releases Short Opinion With Significant Application to Tort Litigation

On June 3, 2020, the Louisiana Supreme Court released a short opinion with significant application to tort litigation in Louisiana, granting writ application and prescription exception in a lawsuit brought by a Texas resident in Louisiana beyond Louisiana’s prescriptive period.

Caruso v. Wooten – Background

The case, Caruso v. Wooten, et al., No. 2020-CC-0327 (La. 6/3/20), stemmed from an automobile accident occurring March 20, 2017, in Dayton, Texas, and involving plaintiff-Caruso, a Texas resident, and defendant-Wooten, a Louisiana resident. Plaintiff brought suit in Louisiana nearly two years later on February 8, 2019, well past Louisiana’s one-year prescriptive period (statute of limitations) for tort claims. Defendants filed an exception of prescription, denied by the district court and court of appeal.

Louisiana Supreme Court’s Opinion

The Louisiana Supreme Court began with the applicable procedural provision, La. C.C.P. art. 3549(B), which provides“[w]hen the substantive law of another state would be applicable to the merits of an action brought in this state, the prescription and peremption law of this state applies…” This provision is a generally applicable legal principle, by which most courts will apply the jurisdiction’s own procedural law, lex fori, even if applying another jurisdiction’s substantive law, e.g., lex loci deliciti. The federal Erie doctrine is similar. Pursuant to this principle, because plaintiff-Caruso sued in Louisiana, Louisiana’s procedural statute of limitations would result in the dismissal of plaintiff-Caruso’s claim.

Article 3549(B) has an exception plaintiff attempted to fit into, however. Dismissal is not appropriate where 1) it would not be barred in the state whose substantive law would apply; and 2) bringing suit in Louisiana is warranted by compelling considerations of remedial justice. The first condition was satisfied, as plaintiff-Caruso’s action was not time-barred under Texas’ two-year statue of limitations. However, the court found no compelling reason plaintiff-Caruso could not have sued in Texas and noted that the few reported decisions applying the exception were limited “to situations where facts beyond the plaintiff’s control prevented the plaintiff from bringing the suit in another forum.” Plaintiff-Caruso argued that she was prejudiced, in part, because a direct action against defendant-Wooten’s insurer was unavailable in Texas.

Louisiana Legislative Efforts

Louisiana’s legislature recently attempted to address many of the issues raised in Caruso, e.g., extending the prescriptive period and eliminating Louisiana’s Direct Action Statute, which can oftentimes make Louisiana a very hostile litigation environment. The lone dissenter from the per curium opinion was Justice Hughes.