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Barr v. Lee

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 30, 2014

CAROL BARR, wife of and DAVID BARR, individually and as surviving parents of MATTHEW BARR and CARON WILLEY and DOUGLAS MORGAN, individually and as surviving parents of HAILEY BARR
v.
JESSIE LEE, SOUTHEASTERN FREIGHT LINES, TRAVELERS INDEMNITY CO., KIMBERLY BELLOMY, LANDSTAR RANGER, INC., AND MARSH USA, INC

ORDER AND REASONS

MARY ANN VIAL LEMMON, District Judge.

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs' Survival Claims filed by defendants, Landstar Ranger, Inc., Old Republic Insurance Company, Southeastern Freight Lines, Inc., and The Travelers Indemnity Company (Doc. #52), is DENIED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Wrongful Death Claim Related to the Death of Hailey Barr filed by defendants, Landstar Ranger, Inc., Old Republic Insurance Company, Southeastern Freight Lines, Inc., and The Travelers Indemnity Company (Doc. #53), is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

This matter is before the court on two motions for partial summary judgment filed by defendants, Landstar Ranger, Inc., Old Republic Insurance Company, Southeastern Freight Lines, Inc., and The Travelers Indemnity Company. Defendants argue that plaintiffs, Carol and David Barr, cannot recover survival damages related to either Matthew or Hailey Barr's deaths. Defendants also argue that plaintiffs cannot recover wrongful death damages related to Hailey Barr's death because her husband, Matthew Barr, was never consciously aware of her death before his own death three days later.

On July 23, 2013, Matthew Barr was driving a red Volkswagen on Interstate 12 near Walker, Louisiana. His wife, Hailey Barr, was a passenger in the front seat of the vehicle. Matthew and Hailey Barr were involved in a motor vehicle accident. When the first responders arrived at the scene of the accident, they found that Hailey Barr was dead, and Matthew Barr was severely injured and unconscious, but showed signs of life. Matthew Barr was transported via ambulance to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he was placed on life support. He was declared brain dead, and died on July 26, 2013, after life support was removed.

Matthew Barr's parents, Carol and David Barr, and Hailey Barr parents, Caron Willey and Douglas Morgan, filed this action seeking survival and wrongful death damages for the loss of their children under Louisiana Revised Statutes ยงยง 2315.1 and 2315.2. Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment regarding Hailey Barr's parents' claims, arguing that those claims are precluded because she was survived by her spouse, Matthew Barr. The court granted the motion, finding that the undisputed facts showed that Matthew Barr was rendered unconscious by the accident, but under Louisiana law, he survived his wife Hailey Barr, thus precluding her parents from bringing wrongful death and survival claims related to her death. Those claims vested in Matthew Barr's heirs or legatees upon his death, and his parents amended their complaint to bring survival and wrongful death claims related to Hailey Barr's death.

Thereafter, defendants filed two motions for summary judgment arguing that plaintiffs cannot recover survival damages related to either Matthew or Hailey Barr's deaths because Hailey died instantly upon impact of the vehicles and Matthew was rendered unconscious and never regained consciousness. Thus, neither Matthew nor Hailey Barr had any conscious suffering before their deaths. Plaintiffs argue that survival damages are recoverable as to Hailey Barr because she must have been aware that the impact was coming and experiences some fright. They also argue that the affidavit of Dr. Jeffery S. Gruner demonstrates that Matthew Barr responded to deep pain stimuli in his unconscious state and there is evidence that he vomited after the impact, which demonstrates that he did feel pain prior to his death.

Defendants also argue that plaintiffs cannot recover wrongful death damages related to Hailey Barr's death because her husband, Matthew Barr, was never consciously aware of her death before his own death three days later, and there is no evidence that he paid her funeral expenses. Plaintiffs' argue that they have the right to bring the claim because they inherited it from Matthew Barr upon his death.

ANALYSIS

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper when, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Amburgey v. Corhart Refractories Corp. , 936 F.2d 805, 809 (5th Cir. 1991); FED. R. CIV. PROC. 56(c). If the moving party meets the initial burden of establishing that there is no genuine issue, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence of the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Celeotex Corp. v. Catrett , 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986). The non-movant cannot satisfy the summary judgment burden with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp. , 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). If the opposing party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party does not have to submit evidentiary documents to properly support its motion, but need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the essential elements of the opposing party's case. Saunders v. Michelin Tire Corp. , 942 F.2d 299, 301 (5th Cir. 1991).

B. Recovery for Survival Actions under Louisiana Law

Article 2315.1 of the Louisiana Civil Code provides that certain classes of persons may recover damages for injury sustained by the decedent. ...


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