Pursuing a Premises Liability Case Against a Public Entity in Louisiana

A man who seriously injured his ankle when he was walking across a grassy lawn was unable to recover damages for the injuries he suffered. He lost because the owner of property was a public entity, and, according to the law of premises liability as applied to public entities, the hole did not represent an “unreasonable risk of harm.” The ruling by the Louisiana Court of Appeal highlights the differences that can exist in pursuing a premises liability case against a public entity as opposed to a private one.

The injured man in this case, Marcushawn Smith, was walking across a piece of property that was owned by the City of Ville Platte’s Housing Authority. The property contained a grassy lawn and also some sidewalks around the lawn. Smith bypassed the sidewalks and chose to walk through the grassy area when he stepped into a hole that was 4-5 inches deep and 6 inches wide. Smith fell and seriously injured his ankle in the incident. The man sued the housing authority for premises liability, specifically for failing to maintain the grassy area in a proper and safe manner. The housing authority asked the court to throw out the case, and the trial judge did so.

On appeal, Smith lost again. Part of what hampered Smith’s case was the property owner that he sued for premises liability was a public entity. The law of premises liability is different when you’re suing a public entity as opposed to a private landowner. Louisiana Revised Statutes 9:2800 spells out when a public entity may be found liable for injuries occurring on its property. According a 2012 Louisiana Supreme Court ruling, establishing liability against a public property owner requires proving five things:  that the public entity had custody or ownership of the injury-causing property, that the defect created an unreasonable risk of harm, that the public entity had either “actual or constructive notice” of the dangerous condition, that the owner failed to take appropriate action in a reasonable span of time, and that this caused the victim’s injuries.

In cases like Smith’s, it is the second factor that can be a significant hurdle. Determining whether a risk of harm is unreasonable when it comes to publicly owned property requires courts to look at four things:  the usefulness of the allegedly harmful condition, the likelihood that harm might occur and how serious that harm might be, how costly fixing the problem would be, and the degree of inherent dangerousness of the injured person’s conduct. There was no reasonable way for the Housing Authority to pro-actively avert accidents like Smith’s, the court decided. There was no viable method for creating safeguards that would force users to stay on the sidewalks and not walk across the grass (as Smith was doing when he injured his ankle), and the cost to the Housing Authority of identifying all of the holes like the one Smith encountered in the grassy lawn would be prohibitive.

Smith had argued that, since the hole existed, he stepped in it, and his fall resulted in a serious injury, it was impossible to declare that the hole did not qualify as an “unreasonable risk of harm.” The court rejected this argument, determining that accepting such an argument would essentially discard all of the existing multi-factor tests and instead assess liability and make a public entity strictly liable every time someone got hurt “on its premises, regardless of the nature of the defect.”

Louisiana law includes certain safeguards for people injured on the property of another. Whether the law creates legal liability on the part of the property owner may depend on whether that owner is a public entity or a private one. For careful advice and aggressive advocacy in your premises liability case, contact the skilled Louisiana premises liability attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm. Our attorneys can provide you with the kind of representation you can rely upon.

For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

After-the-Fact Identification of Parking Lot Defect too ‘Speculative’ to Allow Louisiana Woman to Pursue Case Against Supermarket, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Dec. 29, 2015

Mall of Louisiana Patron Unable to Hold Department Store Liable for Injuries in Slip-and-Fall Accident, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Oct. 15, 2015

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