Supreme Court reinstates jury award against state

The Louisiana Supreme Court has reinstated an East Baton Rouge Parish jury’s decision to award nearly $1 million to a former UPS delivery man injured in 2001 in a state office building elevator in Baton Rouge.

The high court was called on to decide whether a misalignment between the floors of an elevator in the Wooddale Tower and the building’s lobby created an unreasonable risk of harm or whether the elevator’s defective condition presented an open and obvious hazard.

The jury found the former and ruled in favor of Paul Broussard, the UPS delivery man, in 2010, but the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge found the latter and overturned the jury verdict last year.

In a 5-2 vote Friday, the state Supreme Court reversed the 1st Circuit.

“The record contains a reasonable factual basis to support the jury’s finding (that) the misaligned elevator created an unreasonable risk of harm to Broussard and the State breached its duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition by failing to remedy this defect or warn of its existence,” Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll wrote for the majority.

Amanda Larkins, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, said Tuesday the state’s attorneys are reviewing the ruling “to determine what our next step might be.”

In a written dissent, Justice Jeffrey Victory called Broussard’s conduct “unreasonable” and said he simply could have waited for another elevator. Justice Greg Guidry also dissented.

“In my view, not only was the condition open and obvious, for the plaintiff admitted that he saw it, but the plaintiff created the unnecessary risk by attempting to pull his loaded dolly over the offset, when it was foreseeable that such an attempt could result in him losing control of his (300-pound) load and being slammed into the back of the elevator,” Victory stated.

Knoll said the state received multiple complaints in 1999 and 2000 from the building’s tenants expressing their concern that the malfunctioning elevators would eventually cause a serious accident. She noted that the state planned to modernize the elevators and, in response to the reported problems, advanced the project’s start date from 2001 to 1999, but was unable to successfully bid out the repair contract until June 2001 — almost five months after Broussard’s accident.

Broussard suffered his serious back injury in January 2001.

The jury found Broussard 38 percent at fault in causing the accident and apportioned the remaining 62 percent to the state. The panel awarded Broussard nearly $1.6 million, which was reduced to nearly $986,000 in proportion to his assigned percentage of fault.

Knoll emphasized that each case involving an unreasonable risk of harm analysis must be judged under its own unique set of facts and circumstances. She said there is no “bright-line rule.”