A ruling on employer independent negligence is anticipated from the Louisiana Supreme Court. The resolution of this issue will be significant for employers, trucking companies and commercial motor vehicle insurers doing business in the State of Louisiana.
Louisiana Supreme Court Granted Writs of Certiorari in Martin v. Thomas
The Louisiana Supreme Court has granted writs of certiorari in Martin v. Thomas, 54,009 (La. App. 2 Cir. 08/11/21), 326 So.3d 334, to decide the unresolved issue of Louisiana law regarding whether an employer’s independent negligence should be quantified when the employer stipulates that its employee was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the accident. The Louisiana Second Circuit affirmed the trial court’s granting of partial summary judgment in favor of the employer, dismissing claims of independent negligence. Following the majority of prior decisions in Louisiana, the Second Circuit explained that where the employer judicially admits that its employee is in the course and scope of employment, all claims for independent negligence in hiring, training and supervising the employee should be dismissed.
Plaintiffs in Louisiana have continued to argue that the employer’s independent negligence should be quantified by the jury in addition to the fault of its employee. Their argument primarily rests on the language Louisiana Code of Article 2323 which states that the fault of “all persons” who contributed to the plaintiff’s loss “shall” be determined. At least one federal district court judge had accepted this argument and has held that the employer’s independent negligence should be quantified. Most Louisiana appellate courts, however, have held that the employer’s negligence is subsumed into the employee’s negligence where the employer stipulates that the employee was in the course and scope of his employment and have dismissed the independent negligence claims.
How This Applies in a Trucking or Commercial Auto Accident Case
Independent negligence claims allow plaintiffs the ability to broaden the scope of discovery to include corporate depositions regarding the employer’s corporate safety rules, and its hiring, retention and training practices.
In a trucking or commercial automobile accident case, the case becomes less about who is at fault for the actual accident, and more about whether the employer properly hired, trained and supervised its employee. Discovery on such issues can provide a basis for skilled plaintiff’s attorneys to craft arguments to the jury using the “reptile theory” in an effort to enhance damage awards. Additionally, in cases where the plaintiff may be guilty of comparative fault, quantification of the employer’s fault in addition to that of the employee potentially could reduce the degree fault assessed to the negligent plaintiff.
The resolution of this issue by the Louisiana Supreme Court will be significant for employers, trucking companies and commercial motor vehicle insurers doing business in the State of Louisiana. Briefs were due in early February, 2022, so a ruling should be forthcoming in the next few weeks. MBLB will provide an update at that time.