October 01st, 2021
Louisiana Supreme Court Opinions
Zapata v. Seal
Opinion Date: September 30, 2021
Areas of Law: Civil Procedure, Personal Injury
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to examine the interplay between two provisions of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure in the context of partial summary judgment. The specific issue presented was whether a trial court, having granted defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment based on plaintiffs’ failure to timely file an opposition, could later vacate that judgment when the plaintiffs produce an expert affidavit based on evidence that was previously available in advance of the original hearing. The underlying action arose out of a motor vehicle accident in which J. Benjamin Zapata was struck from behind by a vehicle operated by Stephen Seal and owned by Diversified Well Logging, Inc. (collectively “DWL”). Mr. Zapata and his wife filed suit against DWL and its insurer alleging both new injuries and aggravation of preexisting lower back injuries sustained in a prior motor vehicle accident. Dr. Olawale Sulaiman, who performed lower back surgery on Mr. Zapata after the accident, opined in his deposition that he did not causally relate that surgery to the subject accident. DWL moved for partial summary judgment seeking to dismiss the Zapatas’ claim that the lower back surgery was necessitated by the accident. Twelve days before the hearing, the Zapatas filed an opposition, attaching a July 2018 report by Dr. Mohammad Almubaslat to support the assertion that the accident aggravated Mr. Zapata’s preexisting lower back injuries and necessitated the surgery. DWL replied, arguing that because the opposition was untimely, the attachments should be stricken and the Zapatas’ counsel precluded from presenting oral argument. At the hearing the trial court agreed with DWL and granted partial summary judgment in its favor. The Zapatas moved to vacate the partial summary judgment, attaching the affidavit by Dr. Almubaslat, but executed on May 8, 2019. DWL opposed on the grounds that it would be improper for the trial court to disregard the time limitations set forth in La. C.C.P. art. 966(B) and consider evidence that was previously available to the Zapatas in July 2018, prior to the original hearing on the motion for partial summary judgment. The trial court vacated its prior ruling, concluding the Zapatas’ motion to vacate was authorized by La. C.C.P. art. 1915(B) and found a genuine issue of material fact existed with respect to the issue of medical causation based on the “newly submitted affidavit of Dr. Mohammad Almubaslat.” The Supreme Court found the trial court was within its discretion in vacating its prior ruling.
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