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Lee v. Louisiana Board of Trustees for State Colleges

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

March 13, 2019

JACOBEE LEE
v.
LOUISIANA BOARD OF TRUSTEES FOR STATE COLLEGES, AND GRAMBLING STATE UNIVERSITY

          On Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Docket No. C5933212, Section 27 Honorable Todd Hernandez, Judge Presiding

          Jeffrey Mitchell Monica C. Sanchez Hugo L. Chanez Metairie, Louisiana Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant Jacobee Lee

          Brandon J. Decuir Linda L. Clark Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Defendants/ Appellees The Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System and Grambling State University

          BEFORE; McCLENDON, WELCH, AND THERIOT, JJ.

          McCLENDON, J.

         In this personal injury suit, the plaintiff appeals a trial court judgment that found the jury's award for future earning capacity subject to the State's limitation for general damages. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Eighteen-year old Jacobee Lee, the plaintiff in this matter, graduated from high school in Shreveport in 2009 and accepted a full basketball scholarship to Grambling State University (GSU) beginning in the fall semester of 2009. On August 14, 2009, Jacobee suffered an exertional heatstroke following a mandatory four-mile outdoor disciplinary run called the Tiger Mix around the campus at GSU.[1] The Tiger Mix was part of an unauthorized basketball team practice at the university. After completing the run, Jacobee made it back to the gym, but shortly thereafter lost consciousness. He was hospitalized for two days, after which he was discharged with diagnoses of heat exhaustion and mild rhabdomyolysis, which is the breaking down of skeletal muscle that can be caused by extreme physical activity.[2] Since the Tiger Mix, Jacobee has suffered elevated creatine phosphokinase (CPK) levels and has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[3]

         On August 6, 2010, Jacobee filed a Petition for Damages against the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System and GSU (collectively Grambling) for the personal injuries he suffered as a result of the run.[4] On March 23, 2016, following a seven-day trial, the jury found Grambling at fault for Jacobee's injuries and awarded him $2, 529, 229.00 in damages, as follows:

Past and Future Physical Pain and Suffering $ 200, 000.00
Past and Future Mental Pain and Suffering $1, 000, 000.00
Past Medical Expenses $ 15, 229.00
Future Medical Expenses $ 24, 000.00
Past Lost Wages $ 90, 000.00
Loss of Earning Capacity $ 600, 000.00
Loss of Enjoyment of Life $ 600.000.00
Total $2, 529, 229.00

         Jacobee filed a proposed judgment on April 1, 2016.[5] On April 4, 2016, Grambling submitted its own proposed judgment. The matters were heard by the trial court and taken under advisement. Thereafter, on September 16, 2016, the trial court issued its ruling, finding that the judgment was subject to the State's $500, 000.00 limitation on general damages. Specifically, the trial court found that past and future physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity, and loss of enjoyment of life were all collectively subject to the State's $500, 000.00 cap on general damages. The trial court signed a judgment on February 13, 2017, awarding Jacobee past and future physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity and loss of enjoyment of life in the amount of $500, 000.00; awarding past medical expenses in the amount of $15, 229.00; awarding past lost wages in the amount of $90, 000.00; capping future medical expenses at $24, 000.00, payable through the Future Medical Care Fund; and awarding expert cost and deposition cost in the amount of $29, 998.50, in addition to all costs of court and legal interest, for a total amount of $659, 227.50.

         Jacobee has appealed the trial court's judgment. In his sole assignment of error in this appeal, Jacobee asserts that the trial court erred in vacating the jury's future economic losses award as being subject to the State's cap on damages.

         DISCUSSION

         The Louisiana Governmental Claims Act, LSA-R.S. 13:5101, et seq., was adopted in 1975 pursuant to an amendment to the Louisiana Constitution giving constitutional status to the proscription against sovereign immunity from substantive tort liability. Fecke v. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University, 15-1806 (La. 9/23/16), 217 So.3d 237, 244. See also LSA-Const. art. XII, § 10. The Act establishes procedural rules that apply to any suit in contract or for injury to person or property against the state, a state agency, or a political subdivision of the state. LSA-R.S. 13:5101 [6]; Fecke, 217 So.3d at 244. The Act limits general damages for personal injury or wrongful death to $500, 000.00, exclusive of property damages, medical care and related benefits, loss of earnings, and loss of future earnings.[7] LSA-R.S. 13:5106B.

         Louisiana Revised Statutes 13:5106B(1) provides:

The total liability of the state and political subdivisions for all damages for personal injury to any one person, including all claims and derivative claims, exclusive of property damages, medical care and related benefits and loss of earnings, and loss of future earnings, as provided in this Section, shall not exceed five hundred thousand dollars, regardless of the number of suits filed or claims made for the personal injury to that person.

         Additionally, LSA-R.S. 13:5106C(1) provides:

C. If the state or a state agency or political subdivision is held liable for damages for personal injury or wrongful ...

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