Home » Legal » Louisiana Supreme Court Decides that Obvious Obstructions or Hazards May Not Be Subject to Liability Lawsuits

Louisiana Supreme Court Decides that Obvious Obstructions or Hazards May Not Be Subject to Liability Lawsuits

A recent Louisiana Supreme Court decision could have implications about when construction companies have a duty to warn the general public about potential dangers. The Supreme Court has found, that in cases where the danger or hazard is immediately apparent, that a company does not have a duty to warn the public about that hazard.

Royce Bufkin took the matter to the supreme court when he was injured on a street where construction was taking place.

Bufkin was walking down the street in the French Quarter, when he encountered a blocked sidewalk. Due to building renovation at 622 Conti Street, a barrier was placed to prevent pedestrians from using the sidewalk. Pedestrians were detoured to a sidewalk across the street.

However, the construction company also placed large dumpsters on street side parking spaces at 622 Conti Street. When Bufkin attempted to cross the street, he was hit by a bicyclist who was traveling the wrong way down the highway, and was injured.

The Louisiana Supreme Court was asked to review the case because it was initially unclear whether the contractor that had placed the dumpsters in the parking spaces owed any legal duty to warn pedestrians of the dangers present in crossing the street near the dumpster.

The Louisiana Supreme Court found that the dumpster was “obvious” and “apparent” and therefore, “not unreasonably dangerous.” Because the obstruction caused by the dumpster was clearly visible, the contractor had no duty to warn pedestrians about the danger.

The contracting company claimed that it owed no duty to warn pedestrians about the dumpsters, even though the company detoured pedestrians toward the dumpster, asking them to cross the street in a place where there was a blind spot present.

According to Louisiana Tort Law, written by Frank L. Maraist and Thomas C. Galligan, in order for liability or negligence to be determined, five separate elements must be taken into account. First, the defendant has to be found to have a duty to warn the defendant, namely, that the defendant failed to confirm his or her conduct to a specific standard. Next, proof must be furnished to show that the defendant failed to uphold a proper standard of conduct. Thirdly, the defendant’s conduct must then be shown to result in the plaintiff’s injuries. Namely, a cause and effect relation must be drawn between the defendant’s failure to act properly and the plaintiff’s becoming injured. Fourth, the proof must show that the defendant’s conduct is legally the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff must show that the defendant is legally responsible for his or her actions. Finally, the plaintiff must offer proof that he or she suffered real and actual damages as a result of the defendant’s actions.

It seems that in cases where company’s create hazardous conditions, if the conditions are apparently hazardous, and where the public should be able to make a sound judgment of the hazard without warning, that a company does not have a duty to warn the general public about that given hazard.

The plaintiff, Bufkin, asserted that the contracting company should have warned pedestrians about the blind spot the dumpster created. The contracting company itself admitted that the dumpsters created a blind spot for pedestrians. However, the court simply found the blind spot too obvious and apparent to require the contracting company to warn pedestrians about these hazards.

Louisiana Courts use a duty-risk analysis to determine whether liability exists. Ultimately, the question comes down to whether the contractor owed pedestrians a duty to warn them about the hazard.

In the same way that companies are required to inform patrons or pedestrians about potentially unknown hazards, pedestrians and patrons are also responsible for a reasonable portion of their own safety.