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Howard v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

February 16, 2018

ERNEST ARMANDO HOWARD, JR.
v.
NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURGH, PA; GARDA CL SOUTHEAST, INC.; AND MARCUS RENE SLAUGHTER

         APPEALED FROM THE 19th JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, LOUISIANA DOCKET NUMBER 637, 505 HONORABLE TODD W. HERNANDEZ, JUDGE

          S. Bradley Rhorer Zachary S. Walker Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Plaintiff/Appellant Ernest Armando Howard, Jr.

          Alphonse M. Thompson, Jr. New Orleans, Louisiana Attorney for Defendants/Appellees National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA; Garda CL Southeast, Inc.; and Marcus Rene Slaughter

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., MCDONALD, AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          MCDONALD, J.

         In this appeal, a plaintiff in a tort suit challenges a judgment denying his claim for medical expenses against the tortfeasor's insurer. The trial court determined that the plaintiff could not recover the medical expenses because his employer's workers' compensation insurer had previously paid them. We find the trial court erred and amend the judgment to include an award for the medical expenses.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On November 21, 2014, Marcus Rene Slaughter, an employee of Garda CL Southeast, Inc. (Garda), and Ernest "EJ" Howard Jr., an employee of Doug Ashy Building Materials (DABM), were driving in adjacent lanes on Evangeline Thruway in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana. Both men were in the course and scope of their employment and were driving vehicles owned by their respective employers. Mr. Slaughter left his lane of travel and collided with Mr. Howard, who struck his right knee on the dashboard and twisted his back. Shortly after the accident, Mr. Howard twice sought medical treatment for right knee and lower back pain. When the pain continued, Mr. Howard was referred to Dr. Seth Rosenzweig, an orthopedic surgeon, in January 2015. Ultimately, in February 2015, Dr. Rosenzweig performed arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus and to debride a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear in Mr. Howard's right knee. Mr. Howard followed up with several weeks of physical therapy and remained out of work until mid-March 2015. It is undisputed that DABM's workers' compensation insurer (DABM's insurer) paid Mr. Howard's medical expenses and also paid workers' compensation benefits to Mr. Howard while he did not work.

         Mr. Howard filed this suit against Mr. Slaughter, Garda, and Garda's automobile insurer, National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. (NUFIC). DABM's insurer did not intervene in the suit to recover the medical expenses it paid on Mr. Howard's behalf. In a partial summary judgment, the trial court determined that Mr. Slaughter was solely at fault in causing the accident. And, after a bench trial, the trial court determined the accident caused Mr. Howard's injuries. In an earlier consent judgment, Garda and NUFIC had admitted solidary liability with Mr. Slaughter, and that he was an insured under NUFIC's policy, in the event judgment was rendered against him. By judgment signed on February 15, 2017, the trial court awarded Mr. Howard $3, 900 in lost wages and $37, 500 in general damages against the defendants.[1] In reasons for judgment, the trial court stated that its award to Mr. Howard did not include the $33, 793 in medical expenses DABM's insurer paid on Mr. Howard's behalf because such was not recoverable under Louisiana law.

         Mr. Howard appeals from the adverse judgment, contending that, even though DABM's insurer paid his medical expenses, the trial court erred in failing to award those expenses to him. In response, the defendants contend they were solidarity liable with DABM and its insurer for Mr. Howard's medical expenses, and, as such, DABM's insurer's payment of these expenses discharged the defendants' obligation to pay them.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In reviewing this matter, we apply the de novo standard of review. The issues involved require the proper interpretation of statutes and an analysis of the applicability of the collateral source rule, both of which are questions of law. Silver Dollar Liquor, Inc. v. Red River Parish Policy Jury, 10-2776 (La. 9/7/11), 74 So.3d 641, 646 (statutory interpretation); Crockerham v. Weyerhaeuser Holden Wood Products, 16-0331 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/2/17), 223 So.3d 533, 537, writ denied, 17-1121 (La. 10/27/17), 228 So.3d 1232 (statutory interpretation); Madrid v. AEP River Operations, LLC, 14-0044 (La.App. 4 Cir. 10/15/14), 151 So.3d 897, 901, writ granted, 14-2384 (La. 2/27/15), 159 So.3d 1062 (collateral source rule).

          SOLIDARY OBLIGORS UNDER THE LOUISIANA WORKERS' COMPENSATION ACT

         Under LSA-C.C. art. 2315, a tortfeasor is obliged to repair the damage he has wrongfully caused to an innocent accident victim. And, under the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act (LWCA), LSA-R.S. 23:1020.1, et seq., an employer and/or its workers' compensation insurer, is obliged to pay an injured employee for necessary medical treatment caused by a work-related injury. See LSA-R.S. 23:1203A and H68A(1). Sometimes, a workers' compensation insurer is required to pay, subject to statutory considerations, certain amounts that the injured employee is entitled to recover as damages from the tortfeasor. See Bellard v. American Central Ins. Co., 07-1335 (La. 4/18/08), 980 So.2d 654, 664-65. In this case, DABM's insurer and the defendants share coextensive liability for Mr. Howard's medical expenses resulting from injury caused by Mr. Slaughter. Id. at 665. As decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court in Bellard, this obligation is a solidary obligation even though the sources and amounts of the obligation differ. Id. at 663-66. Also see Williams v. Sewerage & Water Bd. of New Orleans, 611 So.2d 1383, 1388 (La. 1993) (finding the employer's liability for workers' compensation death benefits and the tortfeasor's liability for wrongful death and survival benefits to be a ...


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