Louisiana appellate court rules state not vicariously liable for deadly car crash involving city marshal

By Robert Davis | Mar 21, 2018

LAKE CHARLES — Louisiana's Third Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a motion for summary judgment against the state, finding that it is not vicariously responsible for a car accident that injured four and killed one. 

Judge Billy Howard Ezell presided over the case and gave the opinion of the Court. Judges Sylvia R. Cooks and D. Kent Savoie also composed the court. The decision was handed down on Dec. 28. 

The court cited multiple statutes and cases which alleviate the state as answerable to the damages caused by its servants in their ruling. 

Under Article 2320 of the Louisiana Civil Code, "masters and employers are answerable for the damage occasioned by their servants and overseers, in the exercise of the functions in which they are employed." This ensures that the state government is no more liable for damages than private citizens, according to the court.  

Louisiana's Revised Statute 42:1441 provides limitations of the vicarious liability of the state. In summary, the state of Louisiana is not responsible for damages caused by public officials or political subdivisions while they are acting in their official duties unless there is a personal liability created by their actions, according to the decision. 

In the 2006 case, Morgan v. Laurent, the Fifth Circuit Court found that the state cannot be held liable for damages caused by an accident caused by a law clerk or a parish of a district court. Since the city marchall has the power to execute court orders and mandates, the position is considered protected from liability under both statutes. While not explicitly stated in the statute, city marshal falls under the phrase "public officials or political subdivisions" because they are authorized to execute government functions, according to the court.

Larry Jeane Sr., who was killed in the car accident, was driving Northbound on Louisiana Highway 107 in Pineville when he crossed the centerline, striking a car carrying Sarah Barber, Abbigail Turner, Racheal Spivey and Dana Spivey on July 18, 2014. All four girls sustained serious injuries in the accident. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the girls against the City of Pineville and its insurer, Louisiana Municipal Risk Management Agency Group Self-Insured Fund. The Estate of Larry Jeane, the State of Louisiana, Republic Fire and Casualty Insurance Company, the Rapides Parish Police Jury and the City of Pineville City Marshal’s Office and its unknown insurer were all named as defendants at a later date. 

The State of Louisiana, Pineville City Marshal and the Rapides Parish Police Jury all "filed exceptions of no cause of action" against the plaintiffs. The trial court accepted the filings of all except by the State of Louisiana. In that case, the court moved for a summary judgment. 

There, the court found that a "covered individual" such as a city marshal is not indemnifiable for the accident, and the state cannot be held liable for any damages caused by Jeane. 

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