LEGAL CORNER: Who’s liable for my stolen package?

LEGAL CORNER: Who’s liable for my stolen package?

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Submit your questions to news@kplctv.com. Civil matters only, please.

QUESTION 1: Could I be held liable if someone was injured on my private property due to the failure of the public utility company to bury utility lines on my property?

ANSWER: This is an easement question. As such, the landowner normally does not have any ownership interest or right of way to alter the easement. The owner of the easement such as the utility company, has a duty to maintain and control it’s utility lines in a reasonable safe manner in such a way to prevent harm to persons or damaging properties. See Gallina vs. Hero Lands Co., 4th Circuit Court of Appeal decision on a similar case. So to answer your question, the owner of the utility lines would be liable for anyone injured. On the contrary, the landowner should give the utility company written notice of any hazardous condition of the utility line that are apparent to air on the side of caution and to prevent them from being comparatively at fault in the event someone would get injured on their property. See La. Civil Code art. 2316.

Gallina vs. Hero Lands Co., 859 So.2d 758 (La. App. 4th Cir 10/7/2003) “ Plaintiff, child was riding on defendant property, when his horse collided with defendant electric company’s utility pole support wire. The appellant court reasoned that defendant, electric company has a duty to maintain and control its support wire and electric pole, granting summary judgment in favor of landowner”.

La. Civil Code Art. 2316 and 2317.1.

QUESTION 2: I live in a neighborhood where our landlord pays a lawn servicing company to cut our grass. One of the workers for the lawn servicing company stole a valuable package out of my mailbox. I would like to know who would be liable for value of the package. Would the landlord or the lawn servicing company be liable?

ANSWER: The thief himself is liable without a doubt. The landlord and or the lawn servicing company would probably not be liable under the circumstances UNLESS you could show that the Landlord and or the lawn serving company knew or should have known that the person hired to service the lawn was a known a thif and would likely steal packages.your burden of proof will be an uphill battle such as proving the company was negligent in hiring, supervising the worker, and whether the worker was acting within the course and scope of his employment. The real issue will be trying to prove that the worker was an employee and not a contract worker. Employers generally have more control over employees than companies who hire contract workers. The only recourse that you may have in this incident is seeking a remedy against the thief and filing criminal charges against him.

See McNamara vs. Augustino Bros., 13 So.3d 736 (La. App. 4th Cir. 5/13/2009) which is a similar case where an employee of a roofing company stole valuables out of customer’s house while repairing customer’s roof after Hurricane Katrina. The appellate court find that the employee was not acting within the course and scope of their employment when committing the thefts thus the employer was not vicariously liable for the thefts committed by its employee.

McNamara vs. Augustino Bros., 13 So.3d 736 (La. App. 4th Cir. 5/13/2009.

La. R.S. 14:67 Criminal Statute on Theft

QUESTION 3: I was recently shocked to learn that a judgment had been obtained against me. I did not receive any notice or service of process. I learned about the judgment when a credit check was done on me when I was trying to buy a houses. What can I do?

ANSWER: This issue comes up often. Judgments are not valid without valid service of process. What usually happens in these cases is that a process service like a sheriff’s deputy or a city marshal leaves the notice with a family member or household member. The household member may not have mentioned it to the debtor. Or the debtor may mistakenly think that he does not have to respond because he was not served personally. Leaving notice with a household member is valid. This is called domiciliary service. So, the judgment is usually valid. On rare occasion, a mistake is sometimes made and there is really no valid service of process. If this happens, the viewer can seek to have the judgment annulled by proving that there was no valid service of process. (See Louisiana Code of Civ. Procedure art 2001 et seq.) It is important to note that an invalid service does not invalidate a debt. If the service was really invalid, the creditor can simply re-serve the debtor seek a new judgment. Generally, it is cheaper to settle than to fight service of process.

DISCLAIMER: The information furnished in this answer is general and may not apply to some situations. All legal situations are unique. No one should rely to their detriment on these answers. Anyone with a potential legal problem should seek the advice of a licensed attorney before taking any action or inaction. The answers provided are not intended to be specific legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created between the SWLA Law Center and the viewers of KPLC-TV.

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