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Liberative Prescriptions: Purpose and Importance

In Louisiana, like many other states, there are certain restrictions on the period in which you may bring a lawsuit. There are several practical reasons for these restrictions. First, it is important to restrict the period so that people are not in constant fear of being sued for actions that happened years ago. For example, if you cause a car accident, it would be unreasonable to have to defend that issue 20 years after it happened. If we did not have some restrictions, you could be sued for any wrongdoing you’ve ever done over the course of your entire lifetime. Second, if the complaining party brings the suit quickly, then the court is more likely to deal with more accurate information. In our simple car accident example, one can assume that it would be easier to remember the details of a car accident that happened six months ago as opposed to one that happened 20 years ago. Lastly, time frame limits help create efficiency for the court and for those who are involved in the suit. Evidence is easier to obtain when the suit is brought quickly and that makes the trial much easier on all the parties involved.

Louisiana has a variety of codes that describe the time frame limitations for bringing suit. They are known as liberative prescription and the time frames vary by the type of injury involved. For example, the liberative prescription for car accidents is generally one year from the date of the accident in Louisiana. However, you can also file for an interruption, suspension, or renunciation of the liberative prescription. In order to comply with the liberative prescription, you only need to take action that will bring the suit forward; the suit does not need to conclude within this time frame.

One such liberative prescription case was addressed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana in Dec of 2011. In this case, the complaining party was injured as a result of a car accident on March 19, 2003. Shortly after the accident (October 30, 2003), the injured party filed suit. At this point, the injured party was well within the yearlong liberative prescription for the type of suit he was bringing.

However, the next step in the suit would be to notify the other party that they are being sued and call them into court so that the litigation process can commence. There are very stringent methods involved in this notification process that the courts have detailed extensively. Time and manner restrictions are particularly important. The law has set up these safe guards so that when people are sued they are afforded every right of due process as required by not only state laws, but also by the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, the injured party in this case either failed to follow those rules or did not make any effort of informing the other party that they were being sued. Therefore, after giving them over six years to comply, the court dismissed the original complaint on November 30, 2009 without prejudice.

The concept of prejudice was important for this case as well. When a court dismisses a case without prejudice, that means that the complaining party is welcome to try the suit again in the future. Dismissal without prejudice is common when there are simple procedural errors that can be easily corrected. However, if the court dismisses with prejudice, then the complaining party cannot bring a suit for the same incident against the same party in the future. Because this complaint was dismissed without prejudice, the complaining party might be able to sue again.

However, the major issue in this case was that even after the suit was dismissed without prejudice, the defendant argued that the plaintiff could not sue again because the liberative prescription period of one year had already run. The plaintiff, in opposition, argued that the liberative prescription was interrupted because they already filed suit once within the liberative prescription period.

Following the general notion that the complaining party need only start the lawsuit within the liberative prescription period, then the complaining party may have been able to file again. However, when a complaint is dismissed, the party is starting an entirely new lawsuit, so it is possible that the court would have denied the commencement of this new lawsuit because it falls well outside the liberative prescription period.

Unfortunately, in this case, the court was unable to weigh in on the issue because the complaining party presented no evidence in support of their argument. When the court does not have evidence to consider, then it cannot rule in favor of the party whose burden it is to convince them of the facts – the plaintiff in this case. In fact, the plaintiff’s counsel did not even show up for the hearing regarding the liberartive prescription issues in this case.

Liberative prescription issues vary from case to case and can be somewhat complicated. Contact the Berniard Law Firm if you have any legal needs as soon as possible after a potential legal situation arises so that you can avoid these complications.

Call us toll free at 1-866-574-8005 and we will be happy to discuss your legal needs with you.